A clear view for blurry eyes

With so many cough/cold/allergy products available, retailers need to focus on how to best merchandise their offering. 

By Barrie Dawson

purplecoldWhile there is no cure for the common cold, there is no shortage of products designed to lessen a cold’s symptoms. From mainstream medications to natural, homeopathic and herbal remedies, retailers have an array of options to offer shoppers.

Factor in the different forms available—cough syrups, cold tablets, throat lozenges, nasal sprays—and formulations for babies, children and adults, and the sheer amount of cold and allergy products can be dizzying. So perhaps the biggest question facing retailers is how to most effectively display them all.

“Merchandising is always interesting,” says Les Hamilton, executive vice president for Los Angeles-based Hyland’s, maker of homeopathic medicines. “A lot of times, retailers want to create this separate natural, homeopathic area or set within their stores. We have tried this so many times, and it just has not worked.”

Officials at PharmaCare US, the San Diego-based maker of the Sambucol brand cold and cough products, ask retailers that display PharmaCare products in the natural section to also place them with their mainstream counterparts.

“We feel that homeopathic products should be in the core in-line category and not isolated,” says Louis Machin, president of Homeolab USA, based in Boca Raton, Fla. “When consumers shop, they shop according to the condition or the need. When you separate homeopathy out into a completely different set, what you’re saying is you’ve got to go look for this stuff because it’s an alternative remedy.”

The Penn Herb Co., based in Philadelphia, offers a full line of products made from 400 types of medicinal herbs. It is the U.S. importer of Switzerland’s Olbas herbal remedies, its primary line of cough and cold antidotes in the food, drug and mass channels.

“Although the line is not new, it’s virtually unknown in most mainstream outlets because, up until now, it’s only been sold in health food stores and by natural products retailers,” says Bill Betz Jr., the company’s owner and CEO. The eight-product Olbas cough and cold line is available in more mainstream outlets and Betz says it is increasing in popularity, adding that Olbas oil and the Olbas Inhaler are gaining traction among allergy sufferers.

“We’ve found that those sell well year-round,” he says. “In fact, two of the places where they sell best are Hawaii and Puerto Rico. They have problems breathing there, so in the summertime, we sell a lot of inhalers.”

Jakemans, which specializes in throat and chest lozenges, offers products that contain honey, lemon, anise and eucalyptus oil and have no “harsh” chemicals. “We’ve seen a trend toward more sophisticated flavor systems,” says Denis Cronin, Jakemans’ U.S. master broker for the Boston, England-based company. “This matches well with overall flavor trends for consumers shifting toward more unique, exotic and ‘gourmet’ flavor profiles.”

With that in mind, Jakemans introduced its newest flavor, Chili and Lime, last fall. The product is available in a 30-lozenge bag. Jakemans is also offering its lozenges in new, pocket-sized bags.

Consumers who try Xlear nasal sprays and sinus cleansers might notice that they have a sweet taste as well. That is because the key ingredient in all of Xlear’s products is xylitol, a sugar alcohol that is frequently used as a sweetener. The body manufactures small amounts of xylitol, so the product is classified as natural.

According to Brian Craig, the American Fork, Utah-based company’s vice president of sales, a study conducted on children in Finland found that their dental health improved dramatically when they chewed xylitol-sweetened gums and candies as opposed to those containing a different artificial sweetener. Further research determined that the xylitol was effective because it prevented bacteria from clinging to tissues in the mouth.

Armed with that information, and realizing that bacteria is often inhaled through the nose, he says another study showed xylitol to be effective when applied directly to the nasal passages. That spawned a nasal spray containing both xylitol and a moisturizing saline solution. Xlear also markets a neti pot sinus-care system, nasal-wash and sinus-rinse products and has a nasal spray packaged for children.

“Recently, we’ve brought out the Kids Xlear, so parents can feel comfortable using it with children,” says Craig. “The formula, interestingly enough, is actually the same. The bottle is smaller, and it has a much lower nozzle, and it can be used as a spray or as drops. We brought out new packaging with a nice, friendly elephant on the front.”

Craig says Xlear was a $10 million retail brand in the natural market last year, and now it is focusing on wider distribution. The company has the patent for the application of xylitol in the nasal passageway, and Craig says people are starting to understand the benefits. Its laboratories are now trying to develop a xylitol product to combat coughs, but Craig says that type of product is at least a year away from being marketed.

While the discovery of xylitol’s many uses is relatively recent, the medicinal properties of the elderberry date back to Hippocrates. However, it was not until the 1980s that Israeli virologist Dr. Madeleine Mumcuoglu discovered how to best extract the elderberry’s antiviral properties.

“She basically developed an extraction process that’s unique to us,” says Kimberly Weld, a vice president at PharmaCare US. “That’s the basis for Sambucol today.”

PharmaCare’s flagship Sambucol product is what the company calls its original syrup. Weld says that substantial research has proven the syrup to be effective in reducing flu symptoms. It is also the company’s sales leader. The newest member of the Sambucol family is a pastille that Weld describes as a gummy throat lozenge that uses the company’s proprietary elderberry extract.

“We’ve seen some applications for elderberry on things like strep and different kinds of sore throats, so we’ve given people the opportunity to have the product on the go,” she says.

Knowing that many consumers are very conscious of their sugar intake, the Sambucol line now includes a sugar-free syrup, which works well for diabetics. A syrup for children  two years and older rounds out the line. Sambucol is also available in tablet form. In the coming year, Weld says the focus at PharmaCare will be on consumer education.

When it comes to cough syrups, most consumers are well aware of Robitussin, the iconic Pfizer brand. Pfizer is also the manufacturer of Advil cough, cold and allergy relief products.

“Robitussin has a variety of maximum strength products to treat not only cough, the No. 1 symptom of cold sufferers, but also the worst cold and flu symptoms—helping keep the entire family feeling well,” says Tawana Burnett, the senior marketing director and respiratory franchise lead at New York-based Pfizer Consumer Healthcare. “In addition to Robitussin, Pfizer Consumer Healthcare offers Advil Congestion Relief, Advil Allergy & Congestion Relief and Advil Cold & Sinus, which effectively treat the pain and sinus pressure associated with colds and allergies throughout the year.”

The company has added two products to its Robitussin line. One is Robitussin Nighttime Cough DM Max, which controls coughing and helps cold sufferers sleep. The other is Robitussin Maximum Strength Cough + Congestion DM liquid-filled capsules, designed to help coughs for those on the go.

Industry observers say they have noticed a shift by consumers toward homeopathic products as well as natural ones.

Hyland’s Hamilton sees a parallel shift among food shoppers from traditional supermarkets to the more natural arena. “We play in both arenas, so we’re giving the customer kind of a bridge between the Whole Foods and the Walmarts of the world,” he says. “Based on our 110-year heritage, that has allowed us to really capitalize.”

kids-lines---clear-backFor the kids
Hyland’s, which Hamilton says markets hundreds of different items, carries a full line of cold-related baby products for children six months to two years, a 4Kids line for children two to 12 years, and a third line for those 12 and older. Hyland’s DEFEND line contains five different cold, cough and flu products for adults. Based on consumer data, Hyland’s will offer its DEFEND line in vibrant, red packaging.

In late February, Hyland’s plans to add two new products to its DEFEND sub-brand. One is a cold and mucus product that helps loosen mucus in the chest. The other is a DEFEND six-packet package for severe cold and flu. The user mixes the contents of each packet with hot water to create a lemony-tasting tea. Hyland’s is also adding a cold and mucus product to its 4Kids line.

Cold relief for children is also a hallmark for Homeolab USA, a subsidiary of Canada’s Montreal-based Homeocan. “In the U.S., we’re known as Kids Relief, and that’s also our focus,” says Machin. “However, we launched an adult line of remedies under the Real Relief name about a year ago. We’re slowly building distribution on that. Our strongest area is cough, cold, allergy.”

Machin says that Homeolab USA also offers products that range from gas and colic antidotes to teething, asthma and earache remedies. The company hopes to grow in all areas in 2014 and an aggressive marketing campaign should help. Homeolab USA has run commercials on the Dr. Oz television program as well as an extensive print media campaign.

“Homeopathy is an emerging category,” say Machin. “It’s really starting to be recognized by consumers in the U.S. now.”

Part of that recognition includes safety. David Gerhardt, vice president of sales and marketing for King Bio, based in Asheville, N.C., says that homeopathic medicines have been proven safe, no matter what age the user is, what other medications that person might be taking and what conditions that person might have.

“What the pharmacists are telling us, at least when they see ‘homeopathic’ on a product, is that they don’t have to go back and pull that person’s drug profile and see if there’s anything that could cause an issue,” Gerhardt says. “Homeopathy is actually a registered pharmaceutical medicine. Homeopathy has already done all the clinical studies, so the FDA allows us to make claims.”

Although in natural specialty stores for 25 years, King Bio products have only been in traditional channels for about 18 months. Gerhardt says its AsthmaCare product has been particularly successful and helped fill the market void when chlorofluorocarbon-propelled Primatene mist was taken off store shelves.

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