Toby Hill looks at key trends shaping the winter remedies category, and asks a range of experts what wholesalers can do to harness this activity in their depots
As daylight hours dwindle and the cold seeps in, sales of over-the-counter (OTC) medicines kick into a higher gear. And it’s not just seasonal shifts that are driving sales: broader trends are giving the category a significant boost, too, with sales growing £118m year on year, according to Nielsen statistics.
Part of the reason for this growth are demographic trends, which are placing strain on the UK’s health service. “With a growing and ageing population putting large amounts of pressure on the NHS, UK consumers are increasingly looking for over-the-counter solutions to treat minor ailments such as colds and flu, as opposed to lengthy waits for a GP appointment,” says Stephen Davies, controller for wholesale and convenience at GSK.
Whatever the cause, this strong growth is fuelling significant activity in the cat-egory, with Mondelez and others launching innovative new products into the market this autumn.
At the core of OTC medicine sales in the convenience channel is medicated confectionery, particularly to soothe the symptoms of those twin plagues of a British winter – coughs and colds.
“Convenience and wholesale has contributed 45% of all sales of Fisherman’s Friend in 2019 so far – the largest contribution of any single channel,” says Jon R White, regional business manager for Fisherman’s Friend in the UK. He cites the product’s role as both an impulse and distress purchase as an explanation.
Elizabeth Hughes-Gapper, brand manager at menthol confectionery brand Jakemans, recommends stocking a diverse range of flavours to ensure retailers can cater to all customer tastes. “Thirty per cent of people who bought and ate sweets made their purchase choice based on the products having assorted flavours,” she says, citing Mintel statistics. Jakemans offers a range of both 100g bags, available in seven different flavours, and 10-sweet stick packs, available in the most popular three: Throat & Chest, Honey & Lemon and Cherry.
Finally, Mars Wrigley’s Lockets remain a key component of the medicated confectionery category, providing instant brand recognition in three flavours: Honey & Lemon, Extra Strong and Cranberry & Blueberry.
As well as traditional sore-throat soothers, this year there are new innovative alternatives entering the market. Mondelez’s category-leading brand Halls is introducing a new Proactive range, which contains vitamin C to “proactively” support your immune system – “before that pesky cough or cold takes hold”.
With this product, Mondelez aims to extend the OTC medicine category into a whole new “consumption occasion”, as trade communication manager Susan Nash explains. “When the new Halls Proactive was tested, the results showed 82% of UK consumers would consider purchasing the new range extension,” she explains.
“Available in two refreshing citrus flavours – Orange and Pink Grapefruit – Halls Proactive come in a handy resealable bag ideal for all consumption occasions.”
Cold and flu and minor pain make up some of the most easily treated symptoms through self-medication, so it’s key that convenience retailers are able to offer effective solutions for these ailments. Wholesalers therefore need to ensure they
are well-stocked with the right range of painkillers to meet customer need.
This includes stocking economy lines such as Galpharm, which retailers are increasingly citing as a top-seller in the category – not least for its low price. However, many customers still prefer to buy trusted brands when they’re feeling unwell, so familiar names such as Beechams and Panadol are vital, too.
“The key ingredient for wholesalers in unlocking sales is to ensure they have a strong branded presence as it is important to stock trusted, well-known brands that consumers recognise on-shelf,” says Stephen Davies. “This requires a full portfolio of products which cover these primary needs, as well as dedicated space for the category to drive visibility.”
While we may associate allergy remedies with summer – particularly antihistamines such as GSK’s Piriteze – retailers report that they remain a must-stock through the winter months, too. With people spending more time indoors, allergies to pets and dust are more likely to flare up, leading people to rush in for that distress purchase of a pack of anti-allergy pills.
Some customers, however, are wary of products that they view as drugs. Indeed, trends towards natural and organic solutions have impacted the OTC medicine category, too, as Max Wiseberg, managing director at HayMax, explains.
“Natural products based around nasal sprays, saline washes and allergen barrier balms are an increasing trend in this category,” he says. “These types of products are simple to use, help to provide rapid relief and can be used alongside medications.”
HayMax is therefore an ideal addition to a wholesaler’s range of anti-allergy products. It is an allergen “barrier balm” that, when applied to the rim of the nostrils and bones of the eye, has been proven to trap more than a third of pollen or other allergens before they even enter the body.
Another advantage is that HayMax is suitable for all customers, Wiseberg
adds. “There aren’t many products on the market for winter allergies that are suitable for children as well as pregnant and breast-feeding women, which is part of the reason that HayMax is a bestseller in this category.”
Doling out decongestants
With people increasingly treating winter malady symptoms at home, nasal dec-ongestants are another sub-category that has been experiencing solid growth, up by more than 3% last year, following IRI statistics. One brand that has benefited from this trend is Olbas, which has pioneered decongestant oil sales in the UK convenience market. Its ingredients – a combination of pure plant oils such as eucalyptus, mint, clove, juniper and cajuput – suit trends towards natural solutions that are gentle on the body.
“These types of products are also in-keeping with NHS self-care tips – when suffering from a blocked nose, they advise using methods such as steam inhalation to soften and loosen the build-up of mucus in the nose,” says Nikki Banwell, brand manager at Olbas.
The firm is also targeting the youth market in the form of a range of products, which includes Olbas for Children, formulated especially for infants over three months, as well as Olbas Nasal Spray, suitable for children aged six and over.
“Olbas products are ideal for dual siting, where they can be aligned with other cold and flu companions, such as tissues, to maximise sales this cold and flu season,” Banwell adds.