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Chronic-pain shelves grow as baby boomers age

Eight-out-of-10 consumers treat chronic pain through multiple subcategories, including internal analgesics, external rubs, heat/ice therapy and body support devices, according to recent Thermionics research.

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NEW YORK —It isn’t just the weekend-warriors with aches and pains from the company’s softball game that make up the lion’s share of customers buying external analgesics today.

That acute-pain need marked a key demographic in the past decade, thanks in large part to an active-later-in-life baby-boomer generation, but those baby boomers are fast becoming card-carrying seniors in search of chronic-pain solutions. And with that older demographic comes more than sore muscles after an active weekend; there’s an increased incidence of arthritis, osteoporosis, diabetes-related neuropathy or any number of age-related chronic pain issues.

“This baby-boomer generation presents tremendous growth in a traditional segment,” said Scott Matolka, Performance Health director of marketing, especially as growing older means more aches and pains. “[Baby boomers] are incredibly independent [and] remaining independent,” he said, pursuing a more active lifestyle than perhaps their parents experienced.

Merchandising specifically against chronic pain may be an ideal incremental opportunity, said Gregg Harwood, president of Thermionics. “Each day, the [sufferer] wakes up and has to do something in order to ease the pain,” he said. And soothing that pain is more than likely a moving target, literally. “There’s always something. Each person really has to design their own regimen that deals with that pain because it’s unique to them,” he added. That may explain why that sufferer is regularly in the pain-relief aisles, and for that reason chronic pain sufferers represent larger marketbasket opportunities specifically relative to the condition that drove them in search of that pain relief. According to recent Thermionics research, 8-out-of-10 consumers treating chronic pain purchase multiple solutions across internal analgesics, external rubs, heat/ice therapy and body support devices.

Top 10 fastest growing external analgesic brands

Brand *In millions Source: Information Resources Inc. for the 52 weeks ended Jan. 24 across food, drug and mass Continued on page 36 (minus Walmart)
Category Sales* % growth
1 Store brand Muscle/body support $79.9 3.5%
2 Icy Hot External rubs 66.7 9.8
3 Futuro Muscle/body support 59.5 6.5
4 Thermacare Heat/ice packs 48.3 3.0
5 Store brand Heat/ice packs 44.4 36.8
6 Store brand External rubs 30.5 5.4
7 Mueller Sport Care Muscle/body support 15.9 41.1
8 Tiger Balm External rubs 10.5 10.6
9 Jobst Muscle/body support 10.3 5.9
10 Truform Muscle/body support 6.9 21.3

Currently, sales of external analgesics—including heat/ice packs, external analgesic rubs and muscle/body support devices—are relatively flat with sales up slightly at 0.4% to $728 million across food, drug and mass (minus Walmart), courtesy Information Resources Inc. for the 52 weeks ended Jan. 24. But within each of those subcategories there are some fast-growing brands. Within analgesic rubs, market leader Icy Hot—which soon may be marketed as a Sanofi-Aventis consumer product—has engineered 9.8% growth to reach $66.7 million in sales. There’s also Haw Par Healthcare’s venerable brand Tiger Balm, ($10.5 million, up 10.6%), Performance Health’s Perform ($6.9 million, up 44%) and Origin Biomed’s homeopathic pain reliever Neuragen PN ($5.4 million, up 50.1%).

External analgesics category sales

*In millions Source: Information Resources Inc. for the 52 weeks ended Jan. 24 across food, drug and mass (minus Walmart)
Category Sales* % growth
Muscle/body support $315.7 1.9%
External rubs 267.9 -2.0
Heat/ice packs 144.4 1.8
TOTAL $728.0 0.4%

Within heat/ice packs there is a resurgent Thermacare brand, now being supported by Pfizer Consumer Healthcare, with 3% growth generating $48.3 million in sales. And Thermionics’ Thermipaq ($5.6 million, up 55.5%) satisfies the value-oriented consumer with its thermal ceramic technology that allows for the same reusable pack to be frozen for cold relief and microwaved for heat relief. Within muscle/body support, Mueller Sport Care is experiencing growth of 41.1%, reaching sales of $15.9 million.

While more consumers are driving to their local pharmacies in search of a pain product, or some combination of products, to help manage a chronic pain need as opposed to treating an acute pain, age isn’t the only driving force behind external analgesics these days. The recession economy is tempering a new value-conscious consumer, and she’s turning more often to self-care options in lieu of visiting a doctor about her aches and pains.

There’s also an increased awareness around, and appreciation for, possible drug-drug interactions and adverse side effects associated with the use of internal analgesics or other systemic medicines. In fact, OTC analgesics are not recommended for use as a chronic pain solution without a doctor’s recommendation, but an analgesic balm or such nondrug therapies as heat or cold represent an alternative to those internal pain-relieving solutions.

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