Five percent of the population contracted the flu earlier this year, which led to strong growth in the over-the-counter (OTC) healthcare vertical. Specifically, an IRI report states that there was growth in cold, allergy, and sinus liquids and powders; drops for coughs and sore throats; and cough syrups. The severity of the cold and flu season varies every year. Therefore, it’s important to look at the current year’s trends in order to predict or adapt to changing shopper needs.
Top Trends for the 2018-2019 Cold and Flu Season
Retail Flu Shot Clinics Have More Options
Changes in flu vaccine options and recommendations are giving retail clinics the opportunity to serve more people. The first change is the reapproval of the nasal flu vaccine, which is administered as a spray instead of through a needle. Notably, the CDC is recommending it for non-pregnant people aged 2-49 without certain underlying medical conditions.
The second change is an expansion of the ages approved to receive the regular flu shot. In the past, it was recommended starting at age 3. Now, the CDC has changed the recommended starting age to 6 months. This expands the pool of shoppers for retail flu clinics, who can now also market this vaccine to parents with very young children.
Transparency is More Important
“Transparency” marketing claims are becoming strong drivers of increased sales. These are claims that illustrate how a product is made, what is in it, and what is not.
OTC cold and flu products claiming to be free from artificial colors and flavors have recently seen an increase in sales. Nielsen says that last year, sales of these products (measured in dollars) increased by 74%. Not all claims are equally enticing, as sales of products marked “natural” only increased by 2% during the same time period.
There is one demographic where “natural” is a powerful attractant: households with children aged 6 or under. They are 280% more likely to buy OTC cold and flu products with “natural” claims than average households.
Shoppers Have More Choice in Where to Buy OTC Cold and Flu Products
Drug stores and grocery stores are no longer the only major outlets for OTC cold and flu products. Now, shoppers can also find them at dollar stores, warehouse clubs, supercenters, and online. An understanding of which shoppers use which channels can guide marketing in the OTC aisles and elsewhere during cold and flu season.
Here are two notable correlations between demographic and channel selection, according to Nielsen:
- Households with five members or more spend at least 44% more of their OTC cold and flu product budget at dollar stores than the average household.
- Hispanic shoppers prefer drug stores for their OTC medication purchases. They are also more likely to use in-store retail vaccine clinics.
Alternative and Preventive Health Care Products Are Becoming More Popular
A combination of improved knowledge of the medicinal properties of certain natural ingredients, better access to product information, and a shift in dietary and lifestyle habits have produced a greater desire for alternative health care products. These factors are also driving demand for OTC preventive medicines, vitamins, and other supplements. In fact, supplements are an especially strong category, showing 5% growth over last year, according to Nielsen.
Within the vitamin and supplement category, however, certain types of products are outperforming others. Products containing ginger, turmeric, or ginkgo saw double-digit growth last year compared to 2016. Ginger-containing products have grown 13%, while turmeric products and ginkgo products have grown 18% and 24%, respectively, according to the same study.
Herbal teas are also putting in a strong showing. This is especially true during the cold and flu season, when shoppers spend 28% more on herbal teas compared to the average month. Moreover, the three months considered to be the cold and flu season make up 32% of annual spending on these products.
Sales of herbal teas are increased even more when the product puts an immunity claim on the label. Such labeling gets shoppers to spend 42% more on such products. This trend increased last year, bringing about a 22% increase in sales compared to the prior season. The claim of being “natural” also stands out in this category. Products with this claim got 29% more dollar sales compared to average months. Year-on-year sales for “natural” herbal teas were also up, with an increase of 32%.
Key Takeaways for Maximizing Sales During Cold and Flu Season
There are many opportunities for retailers when it comes to this year’s cold and flu season. In-store marketing can increase sales of flu vaccines in both shot and nasal spray form, and the CDC’s lowering of its age recommendations opens up a new pool of potential shoppers.
Applying flu shot marketing strategies, like social proof and educational videos, can help you increase flu vaccine sales during the cold and flu season. In order to take full advantage of the new flu vaccine opportunities, retailers with in-store clinics should be sure that they offer all of the options, including the recently reapproved nasal vaccine.
Incentivizing shoppers to get their flu vaccines is a great way to attract shoppers. Some examples include Walgreens’ “Get a Shot, Give a Shot” program, Target’s $5 gift card reward for getting a flu vaccine from a CVS Pharmacy inside their store, and Publix’s $10 gift certificate when shoppers get their flu vaccine at the Publix Pharmacy.
In-store marketing is also effective for promoting supplements, teas, and other healthcare products. Be sure to stock relevant offerings in the OTC medicine aisles instead of hiding them in the vitamin section. End caps, kiosks, and posters are all great ways to draw attention to these items, too. For the most impact, include educational messaging on how the highlighted items help to prevent sickness, improve the immune system, and offer other health benefits.
The cold and flu season is a big driver of sales for products related to prevention and treatment. And for the upcoming season, shoppers are expected to purchase flu vaccines, products that help alleviate the symptoms of colds and flu, and products designed to help the body naturally prevent and treat cold and flu symptoms. Retailers should keep these trends in mind and use them to help drive sales of these products while shoppers are most interested in buying them.