Road to Recovery

With strong promotion and a wide array of products, supermarkets can compete with drugstores in the cough/cold category.

Most people try to steer clear when they see somebody with a runny nose or hacking cough. Yet retailers should be greeting those with colds, allergies, fevers and the like with open arms. Simply put, for retailers, a sick consumer translates into healthy sales in the cough/cold/allergy aisle.

The drug channel continues to attract the lion’s share of consumers when they feel a cold coming, about 60% according to industry figures. However industry observers say there is opportunity for the grocery channel to improve within the category.

The biggest opportunity resides with supermarkets that feature full pharmacies. “It boils down to the supermarkets with pharmacies are going to do better than the ones that don’t,” says Wade Ambler, director of consumer brands for ScripsAmerica, based in New Castle, Del. “One grocer told me there is a 40% increase (in cough/cold sales) when a grocery has a pharmacy.”

Observers say that while in-store pharmacies go a long way toward increasing sales in the cold/cough segment, supermarkets still must do more in order to pilfer consumers from the drug chains. Specifically, promoting products is an absolute must.  However with so many delivery methods—liquid, tablet, drops and syrups—it can be difficult for retailers to figure out which ones to promote.

It seems the current trend is toward liquids. According to the Chicago-based research firm, SymphonyIRI Group, for the 52 weeks ended July 8, dollar sales for cold/allergy/sinus liquids are up 3.5% at food retailers, and an even more impressive 6.7% at food, drug and mass outlets (excluding Walmart). Tablets are the only other tracked segment that saw an increase versus last year, up 2.7% at food, drug and mass, and less modest 0.7% at food only. Cough drops and cough syrups were down 5.3% and 12.5% at food retailers and 2.0% and 7.1% at food, drug and mass respectively.

One sub-segment that continues to gain traction, especially with parents, is dissolvable pain relievers for children. While the category is very competitive, and most consumers tend to have a particular favorite, all it takes is one recall and parents will be fast searching the shelves for a new remedy. ScripsAmerica has just entered the dissolvable pain relief segment with its RapiMed product line, available as of late-August/early-September. According to Ambler, RapiMed dissolves in children’s mouths anywhere between four to eight times faster than most similarly existing products.

“Our product, first off the tablet is half the size of other brands, it takes 15 to 18 seconds to dissolve,” says Ambler. “It is kind of like pixie sticks, you put it on the tongue and boom, it is gone.” RapiMed is packaged in blister cards and dosage is broken down for children aged 2 to 6 and 6 to 11. Dosage is also based on the weight of a child.

As with most new products, consumer trial is key and ScripsAmerica plans to entice parents before they even get to the supermarket. “We will create trial through PTA and PTO groups,” says Ambler. “We are also looking at a lot of programs where we get the product into pediatric nurses hands. If you can get the nurses on board, it makes it that much easier.”

Some observers say that more parents are moving away from mainstream remedies—also known as allopathic—in favor of homeopathic and all-natural options.

Hyland’s, based in Los Angeles, recently introduced two baby products, Hyland’s Baby Tiny Cold Tablets and Hyland’s Baby Cough Syrup.

“One of the advantages of these homeopathic and all-natural products is that they allow parents to treat children as young as six-months without any harmful drugs,” says Les Hamilton, vice president of sales for Hyland’s.

Retailers should not underestimate the possibility of recalls of allopathic medicines, some observers say.

“Specific to pediatrics, the FDA is looking at drugs all the time, making sure they are safe,” says Hamilton. “Given the many aspects in the manufacturing environment, there is always that potential that a product can be pulled from the shelf. Retailers are preparing themselves that if that does happen, they have enough alternatives for their shoppers to make sure that ‘I have got a product that can meet their needs, that is safe and effective.’ Homeopathic and all-natural is an added bonus.”

Homeopathic manufacturers are also getting a boost from the organic and all-natural foods movement. As retailers look more toward these food options, observers say that thought process can be translated into the OTC category, for adults as well as children.
Hebron USA, a wholly owned subsidiary of Hebron Pharmaceutical, provides two all-natural products focused on respiratory health and support. Bromelin DS is a light syrup in which the active ingredient is pineapple extract. Vic Peroni, president of Hebron USA, based in Newbury, Ohio, says pineapple extract has been proven to help naturally thin the mucus in the chest and support the body’s response to inflammation in the sinus cavity. He also says there is evidence that the bromelain enzyme helps support the immune system.

Coats the throat
Propolis DS is a throat spray containing propolis extract, which is made from the resin of beehives. Peroni says that bees use the resin to protect their hives from bacteria and the spray naturally soothes and coats the throat. He says menthol also helps clear the nasal passageway.

“More and more there is a movement of people looking for preventive health and wellness products,” says Peroni. “That’s where our products are ideally positioned. We are more about support and maintaining health and wellness. For consumers living a decent lifestyle, exercising the minimum per week, our products are well positioned to fall into the category of people looking for safe, natural alternatives versus some traditional products that are know to have some side effects.”

For example, while Bromelin DS does have a suggested dosage, Peroni says users cannot overdose. “Can you overdose on pineapple? You can get an upset stomach from the sweetness and the acid, but that is not going to cause you to get sick or put a strain on your liver or any organs like overdosing on a drug can.”

Generating consumer trial for new and smaller players in the cough/cold category—whether homeopathic or allopathic—can be a difficult task considering the brand loyalty many of the established products enjoy. To compete with the bigger players, observers say it takes laser-like focus.

Meda Consumer Healthcare concentrates on a smaller product line emphasizing maximum, strength and multi-symptom relief for its Contac brand. “Watch people in the cough/cold aisle,” says Tony Sommer, senior director and head of sales for Atlanta-based Meda Consumer Healthcare. They sit, ponder and read tons of packages and they are obviously miserable. But they will spend three, four, five minutes picking up and touching a lot of boxes, so we are really trying to be clear about what we treat.”

Relief day and night
Meda Consumer Healthcare offers Contac in a day/night combo pack, a maximum strength nighttime formula in a 24-count and a maximum strength non-drowsy 24-count. Sommer says the fast growing liquid segment has led to the introduction of a liquid SKU, Contac Cooling Relief. While forms such as liquids are driving sales, observers say consumers still remain a little overwhelmed by the number of options.

“One of the interesting things about this category is that consumers have a really wide consideration set,” says Sommer. “When we talk to consumers about what they are looking for when ill, what is on their list, they started naming eight or nine items. Usually that would indicate weak brand loyalty, but the insight from us is that they are seeking symptomatic relief, so when they are doing that they are thinking ‘what do I have now? Is it congestion? Cough? Within that consideration set is there a brand I trust and where do I get a bang for my buck?’”

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