Cutting through cough-cold clutter could capture consumer dollars

Not even the threat of an H1N1 flu pandemic could shake today’s recession-minded employee from losing any hours for something like a cold or flu. And not even the Department of Health, which consistently advised sick people to stay home, could change that. Not this year.

According to a review of BIGresearch’s December 2009 “Consumer Intentions and Actions Survey” by WorkPlace Media, the recession economy is pressuring employees to work and perform through any upper respiratory illness during this year’s cough, cold and flu season.

In the survey, both employed and unemployed Americans were asked how often they bought cough, cold and flu medication—employed Americans reported a greater frequency of purchase. When compared with the general population, employed consumers purchased over-the-counter cough medication 28% more often on a weekly basis—20% more for OTC cold-and-flu medication.

“Employed Americans are naturally concerned about their health,” stated Stephanie Molnar, CEO of WorkPlace Media, a marketing solutions firm that specializes in targeting advertising messages to people at the office. “And the reality is, when you feel bad during the workday, you’re not going to wait until the weekend to purchase a remedy; you’re going to reach in your desk and pull something out, or slip out to a local retailer and get what you need. This significant opportunity for brands is why we’ve been helping them get their cough, cold and flu advertising messages into cubicles across the country.”

When it came to actual brands, Americans turned to Vicks the most for cold- and flu-symptom relief, and Robitussin for cough relief, according to the survey. However, more than half of Americans (54%) make that brand purchase decision at shelf.

Employed Americans’ cough-cold brand preferenceSource: BIGresearch, Consumer Intentions and Actions Survey, December 2009
COLD & FLU MEDICINE% PREFERREDCOUGH MEDICINE% PREFERRED
Vicks11.9%Robitussin12.6%
Tylenol9.9Vicks11.8
Theraflu4.3Tylenol4.9
Private label3.9Private label4.0
Advil1.8Equate (Walmart brand)1.6
Sudafed1.5Delsym1.1
Equate (Walmart brand)1.5Halls0.9
Robitussin1.4Theraflu0.7
Alka-Seltzer1.4Mucinex0.6
No preference54.8No preference54.5

That may spell opportunity, especially for the retailer or supplier who helps cut through the clutter of a category with many SKUs like cough-cold. CVS may be accomplishing a simpler shopping experience through its pediatric destination center for Mom—expanding some 16 linear ft. in at least one location—that breaks kids’ cough-cold away from its inherent adult cough-cold adjacency. The category contains not just kids’ cough-cold, but also analgesics and digestives.

And Walgreens certainly has been looking to improve its shopability across all categories through its CCR merchandising program, which specifically cuts down on the number of choices presented in an effort to make each core category an easier and stress-free shopping experience.

According to the survey, for the remaining 46% of consumers who are making a planned purchase, whether due to a coupon or to some consumer advertising, the brands they’re buying are the top brands in the category. Vicks Nyquil is the leading branded liquid cold medicine, with $89.7 million across food, drug, and mass (excluding Walmart) for the 52 weeks ended Jan. 24, according to Information Resources Inc. Nyquil is followed by Children’s Tylenol ($41.1 million) and Theraflu ($33 million). That suggests a lot of moms have made their purchasing decisions long before they touch the pharmacy door.

Some other interesting tidbits from the full survey:

More than 54% of employers took extra precautions this year because of H1N1—the No. 1 extra precaution being hand sanitizers.

Nine-in-10 employees knew a co-worker who came into work sick this season. The leading reaction? “I feel at risk,” suggesting that 90% of workers also were looking to take extra precautions this season, such as buying a personal hand sanitizer.

The “Consumer Intentions and Actions Survey” was conducted by BIGresearch in December 2009 among 9,929 consumers.

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