Cough-cold consumers drive natural remedies boom


Consumers don’t have the patience to get sick anymore. The need for effective solutions — and increasing demand for effective natural products — is driving retailers to stock cough-cold products that are efficacious, while also often being homeopathic and drug-free. 

According to Mintel’s “Cough, Cold, Flu, and Allergy Remedies” report from April 2019, 37% of American consumers said over-the-counter medications cause unwanted side effects, and these concerns are inspiring consumers to seek alternative solutions. In fact, 59% said that natural remedies are effective in treating cold symptoms, and 53% said that natural remedies are effective in treating their child’s symptoms.

Manufacturers of cough-cold products said retailers can benefit by expanding their sets to include natural products. “Consumers are seeking alternatives to the usual array of conventional cold and flu products,” said MaryEllen Tefft, vice president of sales for food, drug and mass at Boiron USA in Newtown Square, Pa. “They are demanding better-for-you options and are discovering that homeopathic medicines can offer a more tailored and personalized treatment.” 

Tefft also said that this need for personalized options is driving sales in both conventional and homeopathic medicines, a consumer shift that is boosting retailers’ market basket. “Mainstream drug stores are incrementally increasing their sales by offering health-minded consumers the convenience of finding holistic medicines, alongside more traditional offerings,” she said. 

Others agree that the emergence of homeopathic solutions is helping to expand the cough-cold category. Medina, Ohio-based NasoNeb conducted research with consumers and category thought leaders that found consumers and patients are reporting more severe and longer-duration sinus symptoms. Also, consumers reported experimenting with alternative solutions. 

“We heard in our focus groups that people are trying drug-free solutions instead of, or in addition to, drug therapy,” said Kathleen Leigh Lewarchick, vice president of marketing at NasoNeb. “For retailers, it makes it a category growth opportunity. People are willing to make purchases and be in the space, in addition to traditional tablets and liquids. Retailers have an opportunity to grow the pie.” The company makes the NasoNeb Sinus Therapy System, which delivers either a NasoNeb drug-free, pH-balanced moisturizing nasal solution that hydrates rather than dries out the nasal cavity, or prescription and over-the-counter medications. 

Another finding from the focus groups was that consumers enter the cough-cold category in a number of ways. “They told us it’s a combination of word-of-mouth or a visit to the retail store standing in front of the aisle and trying to figure it out,” Lewarchick said. “If it’s bad enough, they consult a clinician or pharmacists at retail, or telemedicine.” 

Consumers Want More 
Another driver of the growth in homeopathic cough-cold products is that consumers are concerned about the safety of traditional drugs, said Nazlie Latefi, co-founder and chief science officer at New York City-based Applied Biological Laboratories. “Consumers seek safe and effective products to cure the cough-cold, sore throat,” she said. “OTC drugs come with ingredients that may treat symptoms, but could have harsh side effects.”

The company is launching Biovanta, an all-natural drug. “We believe that the best and safest remedies for many common diseases are already found in nature,” Latefi said. “Modern medicine’s response to respiratory infections has traditionally been reactionary, to chemically suppress the symptoms. Our products are different, they treat the infection using natural molecules and repair damaged respiratory tissue.” The company currently is working on antiviral medications that target rhinovirus and influenza.

Some consumers still hesitate to use natural and homeopathic remedies for cough-cold and other maladies, thinking these alternatives are not as effective as pharmaceuticals. To try to change this mindset, manufacturers of drug-free solutions point to ways their products work differently than legacy products. “When people use antihistamines or nasal decongestants, they’re not solving problems,” said Nathan Jones, owner and president of American Fork, Utah-based Xlear, which makes the Xlear Sinus Care system with xylitol. “They are actually making them worse.” 

Jones said that medicinal products block the body’s immune system. “When you are breathing something in, your body’s immune system’s first line of response is to make snot,” he said. “If all you’re doing is blocking snot, you are not cleaning the area, not healing and protecting.” He said Xlear has conducted research indicating the nasal spray reduces inflammation and improves air volume. The Xlear sprays contain such herbal ingredients as the essential oils of oregano, eucalyptus and tea tree. 


Natural Pediatric Products
Consumers especially are interested in natural and unmedicated products for children, said Les Hamilton, president of Los Angeles-based Hyland’s. He said that at the start of the cough-cold season this fall, sales growth of natural cough-cold products for children outpaced the growth of medicinal products. “Moms are very concerned with what they are giving their kids,” he said, adding that mothers make 70% to 80% of the decisions related to children’s health. “They make sure they use safe, natural, effective and efficacious products. We are seeing that in the data.”

Also, these consumers are buying dual packs. Among the best sellers for Hyland’s are the day and night combo packs, such as Hyland’s Baby Mucus + Cold Relief Day & Nighttime Value Pack,  Hamilton said. 

Retailers are responding to the demand for natural products, industry insiders said. 

“The majority are starting to dedicate more space to natural solutions,” said Louis Machin, managing director of Coconut Creek, Fla.-based Lifelab Health. “There is a continuing influx of natural and organic homeopathic products in that space because particularly young well-educated moms don’t want to give their kids anything artificial or drug-related unless they have to.” The company makes HoneyWorks and Kids HoneyWorks cough syrups and sprays made with USDA-certified organic honey. 

Machin also said that for retailers, these purchases are incremental, and often only serve to build basket size. “It doesn’t take away from anything,” he said. “They’re still going to buy cough syrup, so this is supplemental.”

Joseph Juliano, vice president of marketing at Prestige Consumer Healthcare in Tarrytown, N.Y., said he is seeing several trends in the cough-cold, allergy and sinus category. Citing recent IRI data, Juliano said the category is up 2%. “This growth has occurred despite a drop in total unit sales and is driven primarily by an increase in dollar sales reflected in an increase in average price and volume offerings,” he said. 

Juliano also said that certain shopper statistics have not changed much. Average household penetration in the CCAS category has remained relatively flat at approximately 84%, but actual shopping trips have increased slightly at 1%, and dollars spent per trip increased 2%, he said.

Beyond Vitamin C 
Prevention is driving some of these shopping trips. Mintel’s survey also found that 66% of consumers report using an immune support supplement, likely in an effort to prevent illness. 

That means retailers have an opportunity to attract consumers into the aisle before they feel symptoms. “They are beginning the buying journey earlier,” said Art Rowe-Cerveny, vice president of marketing at San Diego-based PharmaCare US. “It’s not pantry loading, but buying in advance of being sick. They don’t want to get sick.” 

That is especially true of millennials. “The younger the shopper, the more preventive in nature they are,” Rowe-Cerveny said. “Their buying journey begins far earlier than needing an immediate relief product.” 

Elderberry is the hot ingredient now in cold prevention, and PharmaCare offers a lineup of Sambucol Black Elderberry extract products for children and adults, including drops, syrups and capsules. “The elderberry category is growing,” Rowe-Cerveny said. “A third of elderberry products on shelf were not there last year.” 

Another factor that is driving interest in preventive and natural products is that the cough-cold category has not seen any major switches from prescription to OTC lately, and there are not any on the horizon, Rowe-Cerveny said. “The category is stagnant to down.”

According to the Consumer Healthcare Products Association, in 2018, OTC sales of upper respiratory products totaled nearly $8.8 billion, which was flat compared with the $8.8 billion in 2017. The category was a large one within OTC, which had total sales that exceeded $35.2 billion in 2018 and $34.6 billion in 2017. 


Big Players Participate 

Larger players also are getting in on the elderberry trend. In 2018, Johnson & Johnson Consumer Health acquired Zarbee’s Naturals, which makes a range of health-and-wellness products for babies, children and adults. Among them is Elderberry Immune Support, which the company said offers a burst of vitamins and antioxidants for immune support. 

“Over the last decade, Zarbee’s Naturals has grown into a broad-based health-and-wellness brand, and has disrupted the cough, sleep, immune support and vitamin categories with its portfolio of family friendly products,” said Pamela Stewart, director of consumer business intelligence at Johnson & Johnson Consumer Health. 

She said that Zarbee’s Naturals is the top pediatrician-recommended cough syrup brand for children age 10 years old and younger. In addition to the elderberry product, the brand offers Cough Syrup + Mucus with Dark Honey and Ivy Leaf Extract; 96% Honey Cough Soothers + Mucus with English Ivy Leaf Extract; Soothing Saline Nasal Mist with Aloe; and Chest Rub with Eucalyptus, Lavender, Pine and Beeswax. 

Stewart, citing Nielsen data, said the cough-cold category continues to grow and is up nearly 2% across retail. Adult products are driving nearly 80% of growth, and children’s products are growing at a quicker rate, up 5.7% compared with the previous year. “While traditional cough and cold products are driving the majority of growth and market share, the naturals health-and-wellness category continues to evolve and is seeing significant growth and momentum,” Stewart said. 

Other category leaders also are launching products in the natural segment. U.K.-based GSK Consumer Healthcare, with U.S. operations in Madison, N.J., has launched several products over the last few years. “At GSK, we spend a significant amount of time and resources to understand not only what our consumers are looking for, but what are they doing, what their habits are, and how they are holistically managing their cough, cold and flu symptoms,” said Jessica Weinstein, U.S. marketing lead of the respiratory category. “We do this so we can deliver innovation that is meaningful and grows the category.”

Weinstein said that among the innovations in 2019, Robitussin launched a 12-hour Cough & Mucus Relief product in tablet form. She also said the brand is poised to continue its No. 1 cough brand position, and that the company offers retail partners category-
building innovation and shopper insights. 

“Many sufferers wait approximately three days before seeking treatment, often leaving them frustrated as they need to decide which treatments are right for them, while they are already suffering,” said Litthya Burgin, shopper insights manager for respiratory at GSK Consumer Healthcare. “With that consumer behavior in mind, and with its newly released Cough, Cold & Flu platform, GSK is focused on building strategies with retailers to elevate the importance of treating cold symptoms earlier to help sufferers improve their treatment and overall wellness regimens.”