Cough-cold traffic gets boost amid strong flu season
Expect more shoppers sniffling in your stores. While this year is not the worst flu season in the past decade, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shared during a press conference at the top of the year that it is a doozy — and it’s far from over. High flu incidence is translating into serious traffic in the cough-cold aisle — with manufacturers like the CDC finding a lot of potential for sustained activity.
“Across the country, we’ve noticed this is a busier cold and flu season than we’ve seen in several years,” James Masterson, marketing director for respiratory and pain at GSK Consumer Healthcare, said. “To monitor the impact of cold and flu on consumers, the Theraflu team created a tool that uses social sentiment as an early predictor of the severity of the season. The current velocity of consumer cold and flu sentiment online could indicate
that this season is far from over, and could last throughout January and February at a very high rate.”
In fact, industry observers said that consumption in the cough-cold segment has been among the strongest in the past decade. And, while that may be bad news for consumers suffering from the flu and colds, it could be great news for retailers and suppliers looking to cash in on their misery.
“The Northern Hemisphere is mirroring flu activities recently seen in the Southern Hemisphere’s last season,” said Gary Wittenberg, vice president of national accounts at Boiron, a French company with U.S. headquarters in Newtown Square, Pa. “Australia’s National Notifiable Diseases Surveillance System reported more than two-and-a-half times more flu cases compared to their last season.”
The biggest winner of this year’s high rate of illness may be those suppliers providing a mucus relief solution, according to Hyland’s president Les Hamilton, who said that the Los Angeles-based homeopathic remedy company’s mucus products have seen high interest.
“Mucus, grape flavor, value packs and nighttime are all trending right now, and not necessarily in that order,” he said. “Our mucus products have been doing very well, [and] we are bringing out value packs next cough/cold season in the baby category. To sleep when you are sick is so key, so offering a nighttime, mucus relief product for kids and babies not only [allows] them sleep, but [lets] mom and dad sleep.”
Beyond mucus, retailers can help optimize sales during the season by adding alternative delivery formats into the mix. Suppliers said that consumers in cough-cold are beginning to demand a delivery method that has invigorated the VMS category — gummies.
“Delivery system is playing a bigger and bigger part,” said Kimberly Weld, vice president at San Diego-based Pharmacare US. “People are busy and on the move, and the delivery systems need to fit their lifestyle. That’s a key reason our Sambucol Gummies have grown so quickly. We pride ourselves in not line-extending beyond what is meaningful
and useful to the consumer.”
Similarly, this season Matrixx Initiatives launched its Zicam Medicated Fruit Drops. “At Zicam, we are always looking for ways to show our consumers that we are there for them,” said M’lou Walker, CEO at the Bridgewater, N.J.-based company. “With our new Medicated Fruit Drops, we hope to bring a delectable mix of flavor into cold shortening, while making a difference in people’s lives.”
Innovative offerings, coupled with a genuine need as flu season rages, is presenting a boom time for cough-cold manufacturers. And though the CDC noted that this flu season has already peaked, the agency said there could be a resurgence in late winter. This means suppliers will have to be nimble enough to meet consumer needs as they change.
“By all measures, this is turning out to be a pretty significant cold flu season,” Phil McWaters, brand director for Vicks at Cincinnati-based Procter & Gamble, said. “The question from here out is how quickly incidence and consumption decline. Some years we see a second spike in March and in others it’s a steady decline through the summer. We really don’t know what to expect, but are preparing for both.”
World of pain: Self-care, launches bring analgesics big sales
Busy consumers are rarely lacking for something that pains them. But consumers concerned about the opioid epidemic, as well as the abuse potential associated with powerful prescription pain relief, have been making the trek to their local pharmacies in search of alternative solutions.
And they are finding those solutions in the OTC aisles.
“As Americans, we have witnessed the growing problems from opioid abuse. No matter the reason or purpose for using opioids, these consumers are experiencing pain, whether it is due to their current condition or due to the issues arising from the lack of current medication options,” Ben Blessing, executive vice president of sales and marketing at Bristol, Tenn.-based NFI Consumer Products, said. “The topical pain market in no way can be a substitute for treatment, but, as opposed to oral OTC analgesics, the side effect profiles are much smaller and the broad ranges of uses are wide, as well.”
Fallout from the opioid epidemic alone does not explain the explosive growth associated with the external analgesic category, which generated $723.6 million in sales across total U.S. multi-outlets for the 52 weeks ended Dec. 3, according to IRI, a Chicago-based market research firm.
One macro trend is the continued migration of healthcare cost to the consumer. “This real shift from managed care to self-care is driving a lot of growth,” Michael McGoohan, chief marketing officer at Warrenville, Ill.-based Performance Health, said. “You’re seeing people shift a little from the oral, [and] topical analgesics are benefitting from that.”
As more consumers turn to self-care of their aches and pains, they also are seeing more options in the pain aisle as manufacturers introduce new options that span different delivery forms and active ingredients.
“In just the past year, the category has seen an explosion of products containing lidocaine, as well as the entrance of new products such as SalonPas [and] PainBloc24 that are offering
longer-term pain relief solutions,” Jodi Murnick, spokesperson at Baltimore-based Vizuri USA, said. “PainBloc24, in particular, offers a category-leading 24-hour pain relief claim when used every day, which will help to bring new consumers to the category.”
John Incledon, CEO of Salonpas maker Hisamitsu America, based in Florham Park, N.J, noted that external analgesics, excluding heat wraps and TENS devices, saw sales rise 17.8% for the 52 weeks ended Dec. 3. “That is a substantial gain, nearly $100 million,” Incledon said. Incidentally, more than $60 million of that increase can be traced to the introduction of Performance Health’s BioFreeze, a pre-existing SKU that shifted channels from professional to mass outlets.
With the pain relief category booming, the difficulty for retailers is in culling their
product selections from a flood of options.
“I don’t envy the role buyers have in this category. They are inundated with innovations that they place bets on and sometimes the bets don’t pay out,” Incledon said. “Take the TENS business, looking at 52 week data, you still see double-digit increases, but looking at 12 week data, virtually every brand is down versus year ago, and some as much as 30% to 40%. This is a
clear indication this segment needs to be re-evaluated for space and assortment.”
McGoohan agreed, adding that education could be one way retailers help consumers navigate a crowded field. “The biggest challenge today is how do you improve the shopability of aisle,” he said. “Retailers and brands need to help explain the differentiation to consumers. What is maybe missing today is a bit of that ‘premiumization’ that you see being so successful in other categories.”
New sleep, analgesic products take novel approaches
Dormin hits the big time
Over the past year, Cornwall, N.Y.-based Randob Labs has been revving its marketing engines to support the mass-market launch of its venerable Dormin sleep aid product with the help of RLA Collective. Dormin has been on pharmacy shelves since the 1950s, primarily through the independent channel, and contains the active ingredient diphenhydramine hydrochloride. Citing Hamacher Resource Group, Randob Labs’ Dormin is the No. 3 best-selling sleep aid across independent pharmacy. Dormin is available in the patient-preferred capsule format, the company noted, adding that it dissolves three times faster than comparable medicines on the market.
NFI slows pain relief’s roll
For 2018, Bristol, Tenn.-based NFI Consumer Products is highlighting its newest innovation into the external analgesics category with its sponge-top, child-resistant lidocaine product. The new pain reliever takes advantage of the current lidocaine OTC ingredient, but allows consumers the option of a hands-free application without the use of a simple bottle or a roller ball that contains alcohol, NFI said.
Strides gets consumers through the night
Strides Pharma is breaking ground in the sleep aid category with its Nite Thru. The East Brunswick, N.J.-based company said its time-released melatonin product provides lower doses of the natural sleep aid to help consumers doze off, and higher doses released throughout the course of the night to help maintain that restful state. The product retails for a suggested price of $11.99 and will be promoted through a robust media campaign that will incorporate digital ads, social media and television.
Vizuri launch eases pain
Vizuri last year had a successful test-and-learn regional launch of its PainBloc24, a 24-hour topical pain relieving product for arthritis joint pain. This year, the Herndon, Va.-based company is focused on a full food, drug and mass rollout of two SKUs. The NeuroMax technology in PainBloc24 delivers the maximum allowable OTC dose of its pain-blocking medicine, capsaicin, which turns off certain nerve fibers that send pain signals to the brain, the company said. In a clinical study, 60% of patients reported a reduction in arthritic knee pain for 24 hours following 1-to-2 daily applications of PainBloc24.