Boomers, earbuds contribute to ear care category growth
What do the royal wedding, unicorn cake and earwax have in common? They were among the many topics that had huge increases in the number of Google search queries about them in 2018, as measured by Google Trends.
According to the site, topics including “How to clean earwax out of earbuds,” “How does earwax form?” and “YouTube earwax removal” increased 200% or more over the past year. Searches for “Can hearing loss be reversed?” and similar topics also rose.
As interest in ear care topics increases, so does the opportunity to merchandise products that can help consumers find solutions. Manufacturers said they are launching innovative remedies for earwax issues and other forms of ear discomfort while also developing items related to hearing loss. It is up to retailers to make sure consumers get the right information about these health issues and can find the products in stores.
“Ear care is doing remarkably well,” said Yann Pigeaire, vice president of marketing at Similasan in Highlands Ranch, Colo. “There is a lot of growth in the earwax segment.” Similasan manufactures homeopathic remedies that include ear drops, eye drops and cough remedies. The company’s Ear Wax Relief and Ear Wax Peroxide Free Removal Kit had a 28% sales increase in the first quarter.
Pigeaire said several hypotheses exist to explain why earwax product sales are thriving. One theory is that baby boomers are driving these sales because older adults are getting to an age when they are using hearing aids, which tend to be associated with earwax buildup. “This is an issue that gets worse as you get older,” he said.
According to the Alexandria, Va.-based American Academy of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery foundation’s 2017 update of recommendations on diagnosis and treatment of earwax, or cerumen impaction, excessive or impacted cerumen is present in 1-in-10 children, 1-in-20 adults, and more than one-third of the geriatric and developmentally delayed populations.
Better ear care
People have long tried to remove wax from their ears by using cotton swabs and other objects, but these methods can cause harm. Also, according to the American Academy of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery foundation, excessive ear cleaning can irritate the ear canal, cause infection, and even cause the cerumen to become further impacted. It added that people should not use cotton swabs, hair pins, toothpicks, car keys or other objects in the ear as these can cause a perforation in the eardrum.
Consumers now are looking for safer ways to clean their ears. “There have been several news stories lately about the dangers of cotton swabs versus the correct way to clean ears,” said Joseph Juliano, vice president of innovation, Canada, and consumer insights at Prestige Consumer Healthcare in Tarrytown, N.Y. The correct way, he said, is with such OTC earwax removal drops as Debrox, which uses microfoam cleansing action.
Self-care is another trend that is helping to boost sales of earwax-related products. “People are not wanting to go to the doctor, or their out-of-pocket cost has increased,” said Elyse Dickerson, co-founder and CEO of Fort Worth, Texas-based Eosera. “They figure out how to solve problems by searching online, then going into stores.”
Once they go into the stores, consumers often find that the ear care section is much smaller than eye, skin, dental and other health sections. That has been true for years, Dickerson said, but now retailers have an opportunity to expand the segment with innovative products. Eosera launched its earwax dissolving product, Earwax MD, in 2017. The product is available on Amazon, in CVS Pharmacy stores and, more recently, in Rite Aid stores.
Eosera also offers Ear Pain MD, which the company developed after speaking with audiologists and healthcare providers. “The top reason children go to the doctor is ear pain, and the No. 1 driver of ear pain is ear infection,” Dickerson said. “So doctors can write a prescription to treat the infection, but not necessarily to treat the pain.” New this year are Ear Itch MD and Wax Blaster MD, an ear irrigation tool.
In ear care and health and beauty care in general, consumers also are looking for natural products. “The rising costs of health care, coupled with consumer concern over potentially harmful ingredients, has resulted in an evolution to natural alternatives to allopathic medical care,” said Susan Hanson, COO at The Relief Products in Reno, Nev. TRP offers homeopathic remedies that include Ring Relief and EarAche Relief.
Consumers want to treat their acute and chronic conditions with OTC medications, so retailers have an opportunity to grow the ear care market by adding safe, affordable, homeopathic remedies. “A knowledgeable, health-conscious consumer base is currently driving marketplace demand and will continue to do so for years to come,” Hanson said.
Retailers can help
Retailers play a role in educating shoppers about the various products. “Education on shelf, guiding people through the differences of each product would help the shopping experience,” said Prestige’s Juliano. On-shelf information especially is necessary in ear care because many of the shoppers are looking for immediate relief.
Juliano also said that such seasonal promotions as merchandising and information about swimmer’s ear during warm weather months also can help increase turns and add value to the category. Prestige Brands is launching Debrox Swimmer’s Ear Relief this summer.
The ear care category is growing, and Similasan’s Pigeaire cautioned that retailers should make sure they do not have out-of-stock situations around these sought-after items. “There’s always a risk your forecasting doesn’t always keep up with recent trends,” he said. “It’s up to retailers to keep an eye on this.”
Ringing in the ear is another issue that consumers need relief from, and Similasan recently launched Ear Ringing Remedy. “Ear ringing is an annoying issue if you have it,” Pigeaire said. “It’s a difficult problem to solve.”
Hearing loss is another problem that consumers hope to solve, and retailers can become destinations for diagnostic screening services. San Leandro, Calif.-based iHEAR Medical offers the iHEAR test, which enables consumers to test their hearing at home. The company recently launched a version that retailers can use in store. Hearing care products are a new category for many retailers, Adnan Shennib, iHEAR founder and CEO, said. “Projected revenues from this category by retailers can expand significantly by the availability of OTC hearing aids in the very near future.”
The Over-the-Counter Hearing Aid Act of 2017 allows certain hearing aids to be sold without requiring a prescription. As retailers get into the OTC hearing aid business, marketing and education for both consumers and store staff will be keys to success. “This will help point everyone to new products, which are available to consumers now,” Shennib said.
Ear plugs are another segment that is gaining popularity in the ear care category as consumers seek ways to prevent hearing loss. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, exposure to loud noise, including a one-time extreme loud sound or listening to loud sounds for a long time, can harm the inner ear, overwork hair cells in the ear and cause hearing loss.
People also buy foam ear plugs to help them sleep while traveling next to the snorer in their life, or in other settings. “We have a national epidemic on our hands, Americans are sleepless,” Doug Pick, president of business development and founder of Hearos in Latham, N.Y., said. “They don’t want to take drugs. They are looking for [medicine-
Hearos, which was acquired by Protective Industrial Products in 2018, offers foam ear plugs for musicians, worker safety, sleep and other uses. The company also has the Pretty in Pink brand of pink ear plugs and offers private-label ear plugs in various store colors. “We have a reliable supply,” Pick said. “While others may be sourcing overseas, our factory is right across the border in Mexico.”
Among its newest products is Just For Kids Ear Plugs, available on Amazon. Children still have their thousands of inner ear cells intact, so they hear things more loudly than adults. “When you see kids crying in restaurants, it’s because it’s too loud,” Pick said.
One factor that helps retailers sell ear plugs is that there is general acceptance of the products. “When I started Hearos 27 years ago, putting something in your ears was funny,” Pick said. “There has been a cultural transformation, and people are not concerned with what people think about them.”
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