Cold and flu season is here. The general advice for most sufferers is to drink liquids, stay home and take over-the-counter (OTC) remedies to soothe symptoms. Convenience retailers and their wholesalers therefore provide a key service to their communities by providing access to a range of remedies that help consumers to avoid travelling to pharmacies or out‑of-town supermarkets.
As Susan Nash, trade communications manager at Halls brand owner Mondelēz International, notes: “Convenience channels have typically focused on the ‘make me better’ mission – heading out to a small store to buy medicated products to help consumers during times of illness.”
Andrew Freestone, commercial director at SHS Sales & Marketing UK, which sells Johnson & Johnson’s range of OTC remedies, adds: “Winter remedies are becoming more important to the wholesale channel, as convenience customers increasingly seek to treat minor ailments and illnesses themselves, rather than waiting to see a doctor.
“With a growing population and increasing pressure on health resources, increasing numbers of consumers are looking for remedies and treatments to avoid a visit to the doctor or hospital. This trend has even led to a prediction that the OTC category could be worth as much as £700m by 2020.”
A greater focus on health and the changing nature of the UK’s population have become key drivers in winter remedies. The category, which has seen minimal value change for the year to July according to Kantar Worldpanel data, is an area in which wholesalers can grow with their c-store customers by not resting on their laurels.
Lozenges and decongestants are the category’s star performers, with growth of 6.1% and 9% respectively, according to the Kantar data.
Covonia marketing manager Ed Round, says: “The free-from market is continuing to grow and sugar-free formulas now account for 10% of all sales of cough liquid – a figure which is likely to rise further, given the country’s alarming incidence rates of diabetes.
“There is strong demand for cough remedies suitable for niche audiences and those on restrictive diets. The Muslim population is forecast to reach 8.2% of the total UK population by 2030, so it’s important for wholesalers to stock sugar-free and also alcohol-free products to meet consumer demand. Savvy wholesalers will take note of these audiences and stock up accordingly, so that they are prepared to support customers.”
Despite Covonia investing in products that align with these trends, the UK cough remedy market was relatively flat last winter, due to Brits being blighted by fewer coughs and colds than usual, which hit sales from mid-November onwards.
Nevertheless, it’s important that wholesalers and their customers refresh their stock. As Round adds: “Many retailers still stock a range of cough medicines that are out of touch with today’s market, so it’s no surprise the channel is being held back, and is lagging behind the wider grocery and pharmacy market. Retailers and their wholesalers should consider the range of medicines stocked – the more successful of them will take note of the brand market share levels and build their fixture accordingly.”
Dan Newell, head of confections marketing at Wrigley, claims that stocking winter remedies during the cold season offers wholesalers a huge opportunity, with category sales “increasing by 120%”. To help wholesalers land their spot on the growth train, Wrigley has created a dedicated range of PoS material that it believes can help wholesalers encourage their customers to buy on impulse.
Newell says: “As a familiar and trusted brand, Lockets has helped to keep Brits going through the winter months for many years. OTC medicine is increasingly important for wholesalers to stock during the colder months, as retailers look to extend their offerings and put themselves in a position where they can cater to all the top-up-shop needs.
“Lockets is a trusted brand that helps people get through the day, easing colds and coughs so families can get on with what’s important. With this in mind, our great range of PoS material will support retailers and wholesalers, and help boost their sales during winter.”
This PoS material includes three-tiered counter-top units, clipstrips, wobblers and parasite units.
SHS’s Freestone emphasises just how important it is for wholesalers to get their core range right. On opportunities for the category in wholesale going forward, he is full of optimism.
“The key to success in winter remedies for depots and retailers is to focus on a core range that offers one or two products from each leading brand in each sub-sector,” Freestone says.
“For example, retailers wanting to offer a range of cough medicines should seek to stock a few varieties from Benylin, plus other leading brands. This core range can then be supplemented with new products that meet additional needs, such as Sudafed Nasal Spray.”
But he’s keen to stress that wholesalers have to take action to help realise the sales potential, pointing to the fact that the IGD predicts solid, albeit slowing growth for the convenience channel over the next five years, creating the opportunity for wholesalers to help retailers attract the growing number of shoppers into their stores to capture their share of spend. Freestone concludes: “A number of general trends and a more specific desire to self-medicate will create the opportunities for retailers and subsequently wholesalers to maximise this lucrative category by stocking the range of brands and products that shoppers are looking for.”
Andrew Freestone, commercial director, SHS Sales & Marketing UK
“Despite an exceptionally mild end to 2015, which witnessed unusually high temperatures, the nation shivered early in spring 2016, leading to an increase in reports of cold and flu symptoms. Public Health England circulated warnings over the Easter period as four times the number of people were admitted to hospital suffering from severe cold and flu symptoms₁. However, such severe cases remain rare and the general advice given to the majority of sufferers is to drink liquids, stay home and take over-the-counter remedies to soothe symptoms. It is for exactly these patients that convenience retailers provide a vital service in their community, in providing access to a range of cold and flu remedies without having to travel to pharmacies or out-of-town supermarkets.
“However, when choosing the best remedies to treat their symptoms be it for cold and flu, upset stomachs or allergy relief, consumers are likely to look for brands they know and have used before. For cash and carries, therefore, it is crucial that they stock the leading brands across a broad range of sub-sectors to ensure that retailers can offer a selection of items which meet all the needs of their customers.”