Male, female, young, old, rich or poor we all suffer from coughs, colds, aches and pains at some point in our lives. In fact, according to recent research from Mintel, the nation’s top five ailments are cold and flu at 69%, headaches at 56%, sore throats at 54%, coughs at 53%, and back pain, which troubles 41% of the UK population.


That’s how much sales of OTC products within convenience are growing year on year, according to IRI data

And although occurring less frequently, almost 70% suffer from winter ailments, many of which can be eased with over-the-counter treatments, negating the need for a time-consuming visit to the GP, recent Datamonitor reports suggest.

As such, the UK’s total over the counter (OTC) category is worth £2.38bn and experiencing gentle growth of 3.8% year on year, according to IRI data supplied by Johnson & Johnson.

And while it still holds less than a 10% share, sales of OTC products within convenience are performing more strongly than in grocery, with annual growth of 8.6% year on year.

The decongestant sector is showing 6% year-on-year growth, according to Johnson & Johnson, led by spray formats which have grown by 16% in the past year, delivering more than £25m worth of sales to the category. And, fortunately for retailers, leading brand Sudafed Blocked Nose Spray 15ml been made available in a case count of six with an rrp of £4.07.

Retailer’s view

“We have a core range of painkillers such as Anadin and Nurofen which people tend to buy all year round, which is then bolstered by seasonal items such as hayfever remedies in the spring and summer months, and Vicks and other cold and flu remedies which we augment in the winter.

“Sales of painkillers have remained fairly constant in the past year but we have noticed a change in when people buy them. Sales tend to be low in the week and then spike on Saturday and Sunday mornings when people wake up with hangovers! Maybe I should think about cross merchandising painkillers with the bacon and eggs!”

Dennis Williams, Broadway Convenience Store (Premier) Edinburgh.

The cough medicine sector is also racking up sales, with 14% year-on-year value growth, according to Johnson & Johnson. Shoppers, it would seem, take a real interest in the cough medicine they buy, spending a lengthy 56 seconds choosing the remedy that’s right for them, compared with 36 seconds for crisps and snacks, according to research from Reckitt Benckiser.

They certainly have a wide range to consider, from multifunctional products such as Johnson & Johnson’s recently-launched Benylin Mucus Cough all-in-one tablets, for example, which aim to soothe the wide range of symptoms associated with a mucus cough to remedies which treat specific types of coughs, from dry to tickly, or the dreaded mucus.

And while the convenience of such multi-functional products continues to grow, there is still very much a place for products which treat specific types of cough, without the addition of further ingredients to tackle pain and fever.

The Veno’s brand is hoping to boost sales of its Veno’s Expectorant for chesty coughs, Veno’s Honey and Lemon for tickly coughs, and Veno’s Cough Syrup for dry coughs, with a winter advertising campaign set to hit TV screens in a few weeks.

Shoppers in the cough segment also tend to buy across the fixture, meaning that the potential for cross-purchase is high, according to a spokesman for Reckitt Benckiser. “With the right presentation, shoppers buying, for example, cough products may also stock up on cold or sore throat remedies at the same time,” he says.

As such, clever merchandising is important. It is key to have the right products highly visible to encourage sales and to respond to the ‘distress’ purchase, he adds. Formats and pack sizes that are easier for consumers to carry around in handbags or pockets are also likely to sell well in c-stores. Think about cross-merchandising tissues with cold remedies, or even putting them next to comfort food such as chicken soup.

Fight the pain

However, not all segments of the OTC medicines market are in such good health. The squeeze on consumer spending, coupled with a seeming reluctance to over-medicate, has seen some areas struggle, not least the analgesics (painkillers) market.

Retailer’s view

“Sales of OTC medicines and remedies have been slow, but one clear trend I have noticed is a move within painkillers to cheaper, non-branded varieties. While I still stock the full range of Nurofen products, lots of shoppers are now browsing the range before picking out cheaper non-branded alternatives such as Brufen, which contains the same active ingredient ibuprofen that is found in Nurofen, but costs £1.05 compared with £2.39.

“My shoppers seem to have quite a deep understanding of dosage levels and what medicines work best to fight specific ailments. There are not as many non-branded alternatives for coughs and colds so I mainly sell the Lemsip and Beechams ranges. Capsules for on-the-go relief are by far the most popular format.”

Manny Patel, Manny’s, Long Ditton, Surrey

While 71% of Brits claim to have suffered from headaches or migraines in the past six months, the analgesics market appears stagnant, with a value of £583m in 2012, only slightly up from £582m in 2008.

The lack of growth, Mintel believes, stems from a growing desire among consumers to “try and fight the pain for as long as possible before taking non-prescription painkillers”.

“The fact that almost six in 10 people agree that it is best to fight a pain before taking OTC pain remedies suggests a reluctance to take medication,” says Roshida Khanom, OTC and personal care analyst at Mintel. “And with more than half of Brits agreeing that it is easy to become reliant on OTC painkillers, it is clear that a sense of phobia is prominent in the analgesics category.”

Offering products which provide consumers with different levels of active ingredients, allowing them to tailor their dosage levels, could therefore present an opportunity for retailers and manufacturers, Khanom adds.

The Nurofen brand is particularly strong in this field, offering two distinct tiers including the Nurofen standard range for mild to moderate pain, and the stronger Nurofen Express range with 256mg Caplets designed to target pain twice as fast as standard ibuprofen tablets.

In addition to Nurofen 200mg tablets and caplets, the standard range also includes meltlets, which dissolve on the tongue, making them ideal for people who cannot swallow pills and for on-the-go relief, which is key to convenience stores. The range also includes topicals such as gels and patches for consumers as an alternative to swallowing pills.

Safer sales

Sales of medicines for pain relief should be restricted to a maximum of two packs in any one transaction, according to Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) guidance.

The MHRA says that this limit is a “reasonable balance between meeting a customer’s immediate need for pain relief while helping to minimise stockpiling and accidental or impulsive overdose.” The guidance, produced with the help of the Association of Convenience Stores, also states that promotional offers on medicines for pain relief should not directly encourage the purchase of more than one pack.

According to the MHRA, multi-buy offers such as ‘buy one get one free’ or ‘buy 2 for £xx’ may encourage consumers to purchase more packs than they currently need. The customer may stockpile excess packs, which pose a danger for accidental or impulsive overdose. The guidance does not however advise against reduced price offers on single packs.

The maximum pack size for pain relief medicines in a general sale outlet is 16 tablets or capsules. A pharmacy may sell larger packs containing up to 32 tablets or capsules under the supervision of a pharmacist.

The guidance applies to all solid dose (oral tablet/capsule) medicines for pain relief sold without pharmacist supervision.

Further advice is available from local trading standards offices, the MHRA Information Centre and the Association of Convenience Stores.

Price also appears to be having an impact on branded sales. For example, 50% of shoppers say they consider price as “most important” when buying a headache remedy, according to Johnson & Johnson, a fact which is backed up by c-store retailers such as Manny Patel, of Manny’s, Long Ditton, Surrey, who has seen sales of cheaper non-branded painkillers grow.

Competition from cheaper non-branded products has also seen a number of the UK’s big brands develop new formats and more tailored marketing campaigns to help boost their share of sales.

Chief among these are indication-specific medications tailored to particular pain.

The number of brands launching new products and marketing campaigns to specifically target either men or women is also growing.

But the one segment of the analgesics market not being hampered by slow growth is paediatric analgesics - painkillers for kids. The sector has risen by 8% in the past year alone, from £79m in 2012 to £86m in 2013. “While parents might be happy to suffer in silence, they are reluctant to put their children through the same level of pain. The growth in paediatric analgesics is likely driven by the rise in the baby boom,” Roshida concludes.

As we head into autumn, sales of specific remedies for these common ailments do rise, providing an opportunity for stores with visible, cleverly-merchandised ranges to profit.


Ones to watch

Fishy friends

Fisherman’s Friend is hoping to grow sales of its top-selling variants - original extra strong, blackcurrant, aniseed and cherry - following its packaging makeover and a new marketing campaign. Sponsorship worth £300k is set to be launched on the Discovery Network this autumn.

rrp: 75p

tel: 01844 293619

Power packs

Mondelez International recently launched Halls XS, a new, mini format in lemon and peppermint flavours. Supported by a £2.5m marketing investment, the new XS range features a contemporary look designed to appeal to a younger demographic.

rrp: 75p

tel: 0870 1917343

Pretty polly

This autumn will see the return of Veno’s ‘She knows, he knows, Veno’s’ advert on UK TV screens. The advert, which features a talking parrot, is scheduled for the peak cold and flu season between October and March, and is expected to build on the 15% growth achieved last year.

rrp: £2.10

tel: 0844 2436661

Soothing stuff

With kids suffering from twice as many sore throats as adults, Strepsils recently launched a medicated sore throat product for children. Strepsils 6+ lozenges are sugar free and available in strawberry, the most popular flavour choice for a kids’ medicine, says Reckitt Benckiser.

rrp: £4.09

tel: 0500 435456