Putting some fizz in OTC products

How do retailers get an edge in the all-important OTC medications market? Finding the answer, according to a number of industry officials, may be one of the most important factors for any merchant looking to build its image and profits in the OTC market.

The overall OTC segment is growing at a modest low to single-digit rate, but observers say that certain segments of the category are not only driving sales, but also store traffic. The key, they note is finding the hot products at the right times and making sure that consumers know they are available in sufficient assortments.

“OTC in general is only growing a couple points,” said Yann Pigeaire, director of marketing at Similasan USA. “Niche brands are driving most of the growth from what I can see. Consumers are still looking for that ‘other way’ than traditional big OTCs to help with their ailments.”

The Internet, of course, is playing a big role in this category. Consumers are better educated than ever, and they can find alternatives to age-old brands that they feel can make a larger difference.

“OTC continues to be a real great category,” said Joe Juliano, vice president of marketing for Prestige Brands. “Ultimately, more consumers are becoming better educated through the Internet, and because of that they’re able to treat problems [around which] maybe in the past they were insecure.”

Opportunities abound. Some categories like the nascent sleep category involve traditional block-and-tackle merchandising techniques that collate the category into an easily shopped solution set. Other categories like diabetes management are employing the latest technology advancements to revolutionize the offering. There are categories that have yet to materialize in the OTC setting, such as hearing aids, where one supplier in the space is parlaying its brand heritage into the ear care set well in advance of any nonprescription hearing-aid centers.

Several trends also are playing out across the OTC aisles. For example, the opioid crisis that President Trump just declared a national health emergency is getting the industry to focus on alternatives to what is currently available. “Topical analgesics can potentially help alleviate some of the pain symptoms that the consumers have without taking and becoming addicted to the opioids,” said Les Hamilton, president of Hyland’s. “If you look at all the new products that are launching — Salonpas with Lidocaine, the TENS products. The topical analgesics segment is going to grow because people are more concerned about putting things in their body than on their body. That’s going to continue to be interesting.”

To Hamilton’s point, sales of external analgesic rubs rose 19.7% to $705.8 million across total U.S. multi-outlets for the 52 weeks ended Sept. 10, according to IRI, with Hisamitsu’s Salonpas growing by 37% to $94.9 million. Meanwhile, sales of electrotherapy devices have risen to $85.1 million on growth of 29.9% with Bayer’s Aleve Direct Therapy paving the way with $21 million in sales on 306.8% growth.

Another example is the cleaner ingredient profile that is not just coursing across food categories — consumers are looking for easier-to-digest and responsibly sourced products across the CPG continuum.

“We recently launched a new product called Simply Summer’s Eve,” said Juliano, who said that the product is made with simple ingredients that are free from harsh chemicals, dyes, alcohol and parabens. “That really came from the insight that millennial female consumers did not want products with harsh chemicals. Consumers continue to look for more value, whether it’s products that are better for you, whether it’s more transparency, whether it’s more convenient. Whatever it is, we [as OTC manufacturers] just need to react.”

Being candid with consumers is another must. “People are becoming much more ingredient aware,” said Art Rowe-Cerveny, marketing manager Americas at Pharmacare. “People’s shopping patterns are changing. They’re actually looking for specific ingredients in their search before they get to the store. So instead of looking for trusted brands, people are making sure what they want is there, especially in the OTC space, and then finding it.”

That’s not only impacting product formulation, but also how those products are being marketed to the masses, Rowe-Cerveny said. “An interesting statistic is Amazon … may soon surpass Google as the first search engine of choice,” he added.

The elusive millennial shopper will start to play a larger role in these trends, as well. They are extremely demanding, and they are looking at labels and ingredients. “Technology has turned communication and marketing on its head, because this group of shoppers do their research long before they get to the store — if they go to the store at all,” added Robin Russo, president of RLA Collective. “They seek out opinions from all different places — their own [family], social media, online reviews, HCPs, you name it.”
 

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