DSN Flu Report UPDATE: OTC sales spike as flu travels West

NEW YORK — This year is turning out to be a strong cough and cold season even though there are more flu shots being administered at retail, and those flu shots are a pretty good match to the popular strains this year — 99.4% of the H3N2 influenza viruses tested matched one of the three components of the 2012 to 2013 Northern Hemisphere influenza vaccine. Overall, for the four weeks ending Dec. 30, sales of remedies for sore throats and cough syrups were up 12.5% and 26.2%, respectively, according to SymphonyIRI Group data as measured across all channels. 

And the flu season was still a week or two away from peaking in the East and making its way to the West at that time. 

Last year there was an idea tossed around that retail pharmacy was doing such a good job promoting their influenza vaccine offerings that they inoculated themselves out of selling cold and flu remedies to sick people. Sounds logical — the more vaccines that matches up well to the popular strain that are administered in a year, well, the fewer sick people you should have. 

Fortunately for retail pharmacy, the flu bug doesn't know logic. Of course, what that really might suggest is that there is still a lofty ceiling with plenty of room to drive the number of flu shots higher without ever materially impacting sales of cold medicines and supplies, even in a year when the flu shot matches up well to the popular flu bug. 

And that means in a particularly virulent flu season, strong sales of cold and flu remedies will ensue. That's the kind of logic that retailers and cold remedy manufacturers like to hear. 

Sales of ancillary products are trending high as well. Hand sanitizer sales were up 15.4% in that four-week period, reaching $14.4 million. GoJo's new Purell Advanced has grabbed 20% of the dollar share across the top three sanitizer brands, not including private label. Sales of thermometers were up 35.8% to $17.9 million, and old standby symptom relievers like chest rubs were up 16% to $10.9 million.


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