Hearing aid sales up slightly in 2012, but mostly because of demographic factors

Writing last week on Hearing Views, Sara Bloom, who covered the hearing aid industry from the early 1990s through 2010, made this observation:

“The hearing care industry was flat for as long as I was writing about it. For all those 17 years, I would write that only about 25% of those who would benefit from hearing help did, in fact, seek that help. Seventeen years. Twenty-five percent. No change.”

Well, the Hearing Industries Association (HIA) issued its latest quarterly statistical report on hearing aid sales last week and, sadly but not surprisingly, nothing in the numbers suggests any change in the overall picture.

Net unit sales for April through June were 718,800. That’s about 20,000 (2.9%) more than the 698,705 sold in the second quarter of 2011. The growth was a bit faster in the private sector, which bought 3.1% more hearing aids from manufacturers than a year ago. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) purchases rose by 2.0% over the second quarter of 2011.

Sales for the first half of this year rose slightly faster: 4.1% over the first six months of last year, with the private sector increasing by 4.3% and the VA by 3.4%.

Four percent expansion in the total market for the year to date may not sound bad, especially in a weak economy. It’s close to the historical norm for the hearing industry.

 

PENETRATION RATE DOWN IN PRIME TARGET MARKET

What must also be factored into any market analysis is the continuing growth in the total U.S. population, especially in the prime target group, which HIA defines as those aged 50 and above. Currently, about 99.0 million people in this country fall into this group. That’s 8% more than the 91.6 million in that demographic in 2011.

Excluding instruments dispensed at no charge by the VA to qualifying veterans, hearing aid sales totaled 1,154,190 in the first half of 2012. That represented sales of 11.62 units for every 1000 people age 50 and over. Last year, 11.99 hearing aids were sold per 1000 people over 50. So, in this key sector of the market, sales were worse than flat in terms of the penetration rate. It was only because of growth in the over-50 population that total hearing aid sales are higher this year than last.

On the other hand, the total penetration rate did grow slightly in the first half of 2012, from 3.64 hearing aid sales per 1000 people in the overall population last year to 3.73 per thousand this year.