Flu season wreaks havoc on suppliers

It was the cough, cold and flu season that wasn’t. The percentage of patient visits on account of influenza-like illnesses never eclipsed the 2.4% baseline that typically marks the beginning and end of a flu season. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the closest the 2011-2012 flu season came to materializing was the week ended March 17, when 2.384% of all office visits were attributed to ILI symptoms nationwide. 


According to IMS Consumer Health, the South Atlantic region had seen the greatest decline in ILI rates through March 31 as compared with last season, down 80.5%. That decline in ILI rates wasn’t as pronounced in the Pacific region or the West North Central region, however. 


The never-materialized 2011-2012 flu season not only impacted quarterly results across many of the pharmacy retailers, but that impact also may extend into next season. 


“General respiratory from a flu perspective [was down this year and crested] significantly much later than normal,” said Scott Hanslip, IMS Consumer Health director of sales. “You would normally see some activity rising in the Thanksgiving time period, but you didn’t see any lift. It was extremely flat throughout most of the season until just recently.” 


In the past, the season following a particularly slow influenza season had meant significant excess in cold remedy inventory throughout a retailer’s supply chain. 


Retailers would typically buy heavy at the top of a season, when incidence was low, and look for an exit strategy for that excess inventory just as a season was peaking in the first few months of a new year. After a down season, any significant excess in inventory was held over to the fall when they wouldn’t buy as heavy as they did in the prior year. 


That kind of ebb-and-flow buying process wreaked havoc among production flow plans for suppliers. 


“[But] you don’t have to do like we did in the old days, which is load up and hope [for a strong season],” Hanslip 
said. Best practices for managing cold remedy inventory entail maintaining a steady base throughout the year, and triggering order and replenishment as illness trends across a region.

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