How to keep your winter remedy & OTC sales healthy

Tom Gockelen-Kozlowski reports on the over-the-counter medicine and winter remedies market that not only becomes very important for wholesalers at this time of year, but very profitable too

Healthcare professionals will, unsurprisingly, have priorities beyond the perennial winter bugs this year, and suppliers say wholesalers need to step up to ensure the availability of everyday over-the-counter (OTC) medicine.

“With the NHS continuing to face overwhelming pressure and with GPs deprescribing cold medication, we’re expecting the impulse channel to be an important provider of over-the-counter cold and flu treatments,” says Paul Trethewy, controller for wholesale and convenience at GlaxoSmithKine (GSK).

“Many shoppers are increasingly looking to self-treat their cold and flu symptoms, so it’s important wholesalers are aware of which sectors within the OTC and winter remedies category are thriving, to help equip their depots with the most lucrative sales opportunities.”

As OTC medicine plays a bigger role in consumers’ lives (who wants to wait two weeks for an appointment for a sniffle, anyway?), versatile products which can cure or ease a range of symptoms have become more essential.

Winter remediesMulti-symptom sector

“With the multi-symptom sector seeing the highest rate of shoppers in the cold and flu category, and the sore throat sector seeing the fastest growth, it’s important that wholesalers are equipped to match this supply level, ensuring their depot is stocked with recognisable brands that consumers will gravitate towards,” says Trethewy.

GSK brand Beechams has seen value sales double – and volume sales triple – during the Covid-19 pandemic, and the company says this is a great example of the above trend. “It indicates how shoppers want to self-treat effectively, and therefore take comfort from multi-symptom solutions,” he adds.

Alongside OTC medicines sits the medicated confectionery market. Halls Proactive is one of the more recent additions to the category, and its added immunity-boosting vitamin C will make it popular with those wanting to self-medicate through the season’s bugs and viruses.

Meanwhile, one of the big trends in FMCG in recent decades has been a move away from artificial ingredients, and it should be no surprise that when consumers are feeling ill, this trend comes to the fore.

“There is growing consumer interest in the use of natural ingredients, which has in turn impacted consumer shopping habits with more consumers seeking products containing ingredients that they are familiar with,” says Jakemans brand manager Elizabeth Hughes-Gapper. “Jakemans menthol lozenges use only the finest natural ingredients, with no artificial colours or flavours, and are suitable for vegetarians.” Each Jakemans flavour contains menthol which Hughes-Gapper says “releases natural vapours to soothe the symptoms of a sore throat and keep airways clear”.

Winter remedy and OTC medicineDecongestants

A brand that also benefits from its natural profile is Olbas. “Our traditional product, Olbas Oil, remains the nation’s favourite decongestant oil and has been caring for all the family for generations,” says its brand manager, Claire Campbell. “Olbas Oil is made from a combination of pure plant oils such as eucalyptus, mint, clove, juniper and cajuput. Its powerful decongestant vapours can help clear even the most stubborn of blocked noses and ease congestion,” she adds.

Significantly, Campbell says that the additional stresses caused by this year’s pandemic are likely to make products perceived as healthier an additional dividend. “The heightened pressure and worry that many consumers have experienced this year has seen a shift in wellness and health trends towards products that provide extra comfort and holistic well-being to make them feel good, such as hot drinks, relaxing oils and bubble baths.”

In response, Campbell says depots should ensure they are stocking products such as Olbas Bath.

There is clearly an opportunity for suppliers to benefit from a Covid-19 ‘dividend’ this year and it’s likely for this reason that companies are investing in their best-known brands for winter 2020. Fisherman’s Friend, for example, is continuing a two-year campaign named ‘What the day throws at you’, featuring digital, social and PR activity. A £1.5m TV campaign for the brand is also planned.

Jakemans, meanwhile, is returning with a TV campaign for winter – annual activity that it credits helping the brand grow in value by 7.6% last year.

Suppliers say they are working to help wholesalers succeed at the depot, too. “At Olbas, we aim to support wholesalers by providing our products in shelf-ready packaging to appeal to independent, convenience and retail customers,” says Campbell.

“This helps wholesalers provide products to their retail customers in a format that will help to build a strong and easy-to-navigate winter remedy category in their retail outlets.”

A unifying message from suppliers, then, is that if wholesalers get it right, there is money to be made from the OTC and winter remedies category in the months ahead. So, what simple advice can depots follow to maximise their profits?

“Educate retailers on the value of additional basket items,” says GSK’s Trethewy. “Wholesalers should suggest supporting products such as tissues and lip balm to retailers, enabling them additional sales through upselling.”

He adds that retailers will need support to understand the importance of their display in adding these additional sales: “Depots should help to educate retailers on how they can create an open fixture on the shop floor, as this will help encourage impulse buys.”

In a normal year, we might still be waiting to see if this will be a winter dominated by coughs, colds and viruses, but the ongoing pandemic means that we know for certain what’s coming ahead of time. So, what’s stopping you focusing on this vital category now?

Takeaway points

Wholesalers have an important role to play this winter

With pharmacies and GPs’ surgeries likely to fill up over the course of this winter, suppliers are urging wholesalers to be ready for a rush in demand for basic OTC medicines. Suppliers say they are working round the clock to meet the expected rise in demand. Versatile products such as cold and flu remedies that cater to a range of symptoms will be particularly important, according to GSK, and the company says depots will need to focus on availability to avoid a repeat of the empty shelves that were witnessed in stores at the beginning of lockdown in March.

Natural products and those with added benefits are set to thrive

It’s a trend in almost every category, but a move towards natural ingredients is particularly pronounced when it comes to winter remedies. Brands such as Olbas and Jakemans offer trusted, effective benefits for those suffering from winter bugs, but also promise all-natural ingredients. Fisherman’s Friend is another brand where its natural ingredients – menthol and eucalyptus – are key selling points for its bestselling Original Extra Strong flavour. This is an important selling point for many brands as they work to build trust with customers. Trust is more important to the OTC medicines than almost any other.

Help retailers to encourage all-important extra purchases

Customers suffering from a winter bug are looking for a range of products that will help them alleviate symptoms and get better quicker. This means that well-thought-out displays – in depots as well as in store – can bring together products such as painkillers, cold and throat syrups, and medicated confectionery to increase basket spend. Tissues, lip balm and hot drinks can also be added to cross-category displays to drive additional spend. Olbas is one example of a company that is supporting the trade with branded display units to help depots encourage independent retailers to stock up this winter.

Coronavirus wholesale industry


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