Colds might be a nuisance, but they can make you money. Tracy West takes a healthy interest in the latest marketing advice for the category

If you don’t have a cold at the moment you’re lucky, but I bet you know someone who does, as it’s ‘that time of year’. Last year, according to Mintel, 60% of adults suffered from a cold, which equates to just over 30 million people. The research company found that cold and flu remedies are store cupboard items for 57% of people, who like to keep a ready supply at home.

Spending on cold and flu remedies grew by 10% between 2005 and 2010 to reach £532m. Of course, most of this spending is done in the grocery multiples, but c-stores have their part to play thanks to their very convenience, meaning cold sufferers can pick up remedies on their way to work or, if their cold is getting worse, on their way home.


Consumer spending on medicated confectionary rose 11% between 2005-10 to reach an estimated £139m, according to Mintel

Interestingly, Mintel has identified three key consumer groups for retailers to target:

- So-called Security Guards are by far the largest group (60%). They are inclined to keep a supply of remedies at home and appear happy to use their medication rather than waiting until they are really suffering.

- Wise Owls (14%) are typically over-65s and have flu injections. Even so, two-thirds keep remedies at home. They are slightly more inclined to use lozenges than other remedies.

- Brave Soldiers (26%) are likely to be families and have children under the age of four. They all wait until they are really suffering before resorting to any medication and they are much less likely to keep a stock at home.

So it seems it may well be mainly ‘brave soldiers’ who advance into c-stores looking for a cold remedy.

Retailer’s view

“Cold and flu remedies sell well in my store, especially over the winter months. My customers purchase a wide range of products, from cough medicines to lozenges, in order to stay on top of their illnesses. 

“I usually keep medicines behind the counter, next to the cigarettes, for security reasons. Sadly, small items like these are easier for people to steal. 

“I have found that the Strepsils counter unit has led to a big increase in impulse buys. Sales of the Strepsils Handy Tube have risen by 50% since I started using the unit. We stock three varieties: honey & lemon Handy Tube; the cool Handy Tube; and the traditional honey & Lemon blister packs. 

“I think the reason the Handy Tube format has been so successful is that it’s so convenient. It’s easier to carry in your purse or pocket. A wide variety of people buy Handy Tubes, but they generally tend to be busy people on the move. I always take Strepsils when I’ve got a sore throat!” 

Sergi Singh, Jackpot Wines, Hull

Trevor Gore, sales development controller at Reckitt Benckiser, says that as 70% of cold and flu remedies are bought between November and February, now is the time for them to be given a high profile.

“These items are very much impulse driven. People wait to fall ill before they buy them,” he says, and adds that it’s mostly women buying them for themselves and everyone else.

“Over the counter (OTC) remedies are still a fairly new area for c-stores and some retailers can be over-cautious about where to keep them, but if you go into a supermarket you’ll see an aisle of cold and flu remedies available. Some retailers aren’t quite sure about what they can and can’t have out on the shopfloor, but what they need to remember is that only pharmacies can stock the stronger medicines so c-stores are free to merchandise theirs on the shopfloor. There’s no need to hide them away.”

He says his company’s best-sellers in c-stores are Lemsip powders and Strepsils. “Although there is a big movement to tablet and capsule formats, people still like the sachet hot drinks.”

It seems Reckitt Benckiser has a big hit on its hands in the shape of the Strepsils Handy Tubes format. Gore says Strepsils is regarded as a medicine because it has anti-bacterial properties to fight infection. “Sore throats are often the first symptom of a cold, so selling throat lozenges and cold remedies together is a good idea.”

Interestingly, the company created a forum of independent retailers to provide advice on how to ensure the continued success of the product. The company says it is “drawing on the skills and experience of three independent retailers from around the country”. This Steering Committee is being regularly consulted to make sure Strepsils provides the “best brand direction, pos material and retailer support for this crucial sector”.

One of the three retailers is Sergi Singh of Jackpot Wines in Hull. He says: “I think major manufacturers have now realised the importance of the independent retail community. Retailers like me are at the frontline of sales: we know what customers need; what the right price is; and what the right product is. Forums such as the Steering Committee provide a way for independent retailers to suggest changes.

“I’m proud to have contributed to a new product that is so suitable for the independent retail sector. The sales of the new Handy Tube speak for themselves. The Handy Tube has driven sales in my store and I would encourage other retailers to stock them.”

Sergi says he thinks other manufacturers could do more to engage with the independent retail sector: “It is a two-way thing retailers need the support of the big manufacturers, while manufacturers need to listen to retailers in order to maximise sales. The changes that Reckitt Benckiser made to Strepsils’ pos material and the subsequent success of Strepsils Handy Tube show the value of collaboration between independent retailers and larger corporations. I think that more partnerships of this kind can only be a good thing.”

GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), the company behind the successful Beechams range, reckons that as OTC medicines can be a distress purchase they are not always price sensitive, and convenience/accessibility may well be more important than price.

A spokesperson comments: “Convenience stores are ideally placed to offer OTC medicines where symptoms are causing discomfort and there is an immediate need for relief, especially out of normal shop hours or on the customer’s journey.

“The challenge for convenience retailers is to cover the key markets and ensure good visibility.”

Products not to be sniffed at

One product that sells well during the cough and cold season is tissues. Indeed, according to Kimberly-Clark, 55% of facial tissue sales are made between October and March. 

The company has just launched Kleenex Pockets especially for men. Kleenex brand manager Vicky Morgan says the product aims to overcome the main barrier to men buying tissues, namely finding a way to carry them. She says: “The ultra-thin pack is designed to fit discreetly in men’s pockets and is the biggest innovation in the pocket pack segment for a decade. Pockets are sold in compact trays designed to fit next to the checkout, as well as on clip strips for dual display opportunities in key positions such as male toiletries and magazines, making them an ideal line for convenience stores.” 

Morgan says Kleenex tissues should be stocked all year round as there is a continual need for them, whether it’s during the hayfever season in the spring/summer months, or the cold and flu season in the autumn/winter months. 

She adds that consumers trade up to Kleenex during the cold and flu season as they want better quality products such as Kleenex Balsam, which is specially developed to soothe a sore nose with a touch of balm. 

Another new launch from Kimberly-Clark is Kleenex Balsam Fresh, a tissue infused with menthol. Pocket packs are already available and a box will be launched in January.

Like Reckitt Benckiser’s Gore, the GSK spokesperson says consumers are used to self-selection, so remedies do not need to be hidden away behind the counter. “If possible they should be merchandised so consumers can study the packs and make an informed choice.”

The company says the core range for this time of year should include cold and flu remedies, but also heartburn and indigestion products (for all that over-indulgence) as well as smoking cessation products for all those new year’s resolutions.

Covonia marketing manager Caroline Wheeler says Covonia Chesty 150ml and Covonia Dry and Tickly 150ml are best-sellers in convenience stores, but she expects the new Covonia Double Action Cough lozenges to do well, too.

The lozenges performed very well in consumer research, where 93% of people said they gave noticeable relief to their coughs and cold symptoms. In addition, more than two-thirds said they would switch from their current brand to the more powerful Covonia lozenges after tasting them.

Wheeler says stocking these products all year round is vital as coughs and colds occur at any time and the ‘peak’ sales can vary. “Usually this is around Christmas time, but there have been secondary peaks into spring, too,” she explains.

“As far as merchandising is concerned, it is important to think about what consumers are looking for when they come in. If you normally stock a few lines behind the counter during the year consider creating a section in the front of the shop during the winter season, merchandising cough and cold remedies alongside medicated lozenges as there are good opportunities for linked sales.”

She adds that the Covonia brand will be high profile until March 2011 thanks to its biggest advertising campaign to date.

Another brand with backing this winter is Olbas, with a £1.3m spend to support its new packaging. Olbas senior brand manager Hilary Lynn describes the new look as a “more contemporary style, emphasising the combination of pure plant oils which release powerful vapours to help keep nasal passages clear”.

Core lines for c-stores are the Olbas Inhaler (rrp £2.35) and Olbas Oil 10ml (rrp from £2.55).

“Olbas is most often associated with making us feel better in the depths of winter. However, it also offers relief from the congestion caused by pollen allergies. Olbas is made with a combination of pure plant essential oils including eucalyptus, mint and cajuput that can help relieve the bunged-up symptoms of hay fever, making it a year-round family essential,” explains Lynn.

She continues: “Often, cold remedies are a distress purchase made when someone is already experiencing symptoms, so convenience stores are the perfect outlets for these purchases.”

Lynn suggests that retailers with limited shelf space use clip strips, which are available for use with Olbas inhalers, lozenges and tissues, and are very space efficient. Also available is a range of pos to help place the brand front-of-mind and remind consumers that, at this time of year, coughs and colds can strike at any time.

Another year-round favourite is Halls, the number one medicated confectionery brand in the UK with a 28% value share, according to Nielsen data. A new variant has recently been added to the Halls Mentholyptus range. Ice cool is a mild mint flavoured medicated sweet. With its milder flavour and light turquoise packaging, it has been launched to attract more female consumers to the brand. Cadbury UK trade communications manager Susan Nash says: “We expect the new addition to drive purchases with new consumers who may find the original menthol flavour too strong.”

A marketing campaign to support the Halls brand will begin next month. 

Nash says medicated confectionery products are regularly bought as a comforter alongside stronger OTC medicines, so she says it’s essential to site Halls alongside these OTC medicines as well as in impulse locations like till points to drive incremental purchases.

Finally, according to Nielsen data, Lockets honey & lemon is the best-selling medicated confectionery line in independent and symbol stores. However, other varieties are available, too cranberry & blueberry and extra strong. Wrigley’s now markets the Lockets brand, and its portfolio also includes Airwaves, which aims to give consumers an ‘invigorating kick’. Flavours include menthol & eucalyptus and cherry menthol.

Ones to watch…  
Twice as nicespanNew Covonia Double Action cough lozenges have a brown side which warms and soothes, and a white side which targets airways to clear congestion. 
rrp: £1.59 
tel: 01484 842217

Handy facts 
More than three million packs of Strepsils Handy Tubes have been sold since their launch last year, according to maker Reckitt Benckiser. 
rrp: £1.49 honey & lemon; £1.99 Cool Strepsils 
tel: 01753 217800 

Ultra experience 
A new five-sachet pack of Beechams Ultra All in One hot lemon menthol drink now joins eight-pack Beechams Ultra All in One capsules. 
rrp: capsules 8s £2.99; drink 5s £2.99 
tel: 020 8047 5000

Keep it simple 
Tixylix honey, lemon & glycerol syrup meets NHS recomendations that such cough mixtures should be the first line of treatment in children over one. 
rrp: £3.05 
tel: 01403 218111

Ahead by a nose 
Kimberly-Clark is investing £2.2m in a marketing campaign to back its Kleenex Balsam this winter. The promotional spend is in a bid to grow the facial tissue category as a whole. 
tel: 01732 594000