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08/25/2021

First aid category remains ready for anything

First aid suppliers emphasize consumer-led innovation and education opportunities to spur sales.
David Salazar
Managing Editor
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The first aid category is not what it used to be. Even though a majority of trips to brick-and-mortar stores for first aid products are still driven by acute needs — a slip while cutting vegetables or a child’s scraped knee — consumers are changing how they approach the category, embracing the Boy Scouts’ mantra of always being prepared, among other changes driven by COVID-19. 

Due in part to early-pandemic guidance to maximize the time between shopping trips, the first aid category’s first big shakeup last year was a boom in online sales. 

“One of the things that we saw right away was people switching to just buying everything online,” said Laura Conlon, vice president of marketing at bandage and first aid kit company Welly. “We were available on Amazon and our direct-to-consumer site became really popular as people were just really looking at ways to get prepared and feel stocked up with the things they needed.”

As vaccination rates rise, though, consumers seem to be hanging on to their pandemic-era shopping mindsets and growing omnichannel shopping behavior. “Now we’re seeing people going back shopping in-store and shopping online, growing that hybrid approach,” Conlon said. “The thing that continues is this blended wellness journey where people are thinking about being prepared and what they need for their lifestyle — and that includes first aid, health care and really stocking up and seeking out these products more regularly.”

[Related Content: Portability, packaging and preparedness drive first aid growth]

As consumers look to stock up, they also increasingly know exactly what they want from the first aid category, and suppliers in the space are looking to deliver — from innovative products to educational resources and partnerships with retailers to drive foot traffic and sales. 

“The thing that continues is this blended wellness journey where people are thinking about being prepared and what they need for their lifestyle — and that includes first aid, health care and really stocking up and seeking out these products more regularly.”
— Laura Conlon, vice president of marketing at Welly.
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Innovation That Sticks
At Johnson & Johnson Consumer’s Band-Aid brand, one of its biggest innovations in years was spurred by a larger reckoning that the United States had around race last summer. Amid protests sparked by the murder of George Floyd and increased focus on Black representation in society, Band-Aid took to Instagram to promise a range of bandages in varying skin tones. 

In March, the brand made good on that promise with the rollout of Band-Aid Ourtone, a collection of bandages in different shades of brown meant to be used on diverse skin tones. The bandages, available in BR45, BR55 and BR65 tones, feature the brand’s Memory Weave fabric and its Quilt-Aid pad that doesn’t stick to wounds. 

“We took such tremendous care with this launch, really making sure we were keeping our Black consumers at the front and center of every decision we were making,” said Meghan Kelly, senior brand manager for wound care and Band-Aid at J&J. “From shades of the straps to what that packaging looked like to what the name was, we worked to create new research methods to engage with them and make sure we were delivering a solution that better reflects the community that we serve, and incorporated some of that feedback and learning.”

Alongside the Ourtone launch, Band-Aid committed $100 million over five years to the Foundation of the National Student Nurses Association and the association itself for scholarships and member fee support. “We heard directly from our consumers that they want us to show up in the communities that we’re serving,” Kelly said. “And this came directly from their feedback, really making sure we were incorporating that really strong community purpose and action behind the launch.”

“From shades of the straps to what that packaging looked like to what the name was, we worked to create new research methods to engage with them and make sure we were delivering a solution that better reflects the community that we serve, and incorporated some of that feedback and learning.”
— Meghan Kelly, senior brand manager for wound care and Band-Aid at J&J.
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Beyond its efforts to meet the needs of diverse consumers, Kelly said Band-Aid also has been innovating around waterproof bandages — a perennial demand in the first aid space as consumers look to protect fresh and healing wounds from constant handwashing or during a swim. 

“There have been products in the space, even within our own portfolio, for decades out there,” she said. “But listening to consumers and feedback, their needs weren’t met. They felt like they always were forced to compromise, whether products weren’t staying on their skin as long as they would want or waterproof bandages were really hard to apply.”

Enter Water Block Flex, bandages designed to block water, dirt and germs using a flexible material that moves with the user. The brand said the product is designed to allow the skin to breathe while healing and offers a thinner bandage than typical waterproof offerings. “We knew this was a sweet spot we wanted to help provide that solution for.”

[Related Content: Direct pressure: First aid manufacturers use customer insights, e-commerce to their advantage]

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Another company solving for consumers’ literal pain points is 3M. The maker of Nexcare bandages and wound care products recently introduced Nexcare Duo, a line of bandages designed to offer strong hold and pain-free removal. Peter Berens, global portfolio leader for 3M’s skin health and wellness business and its consumer health and safety division, said the company’s research and development teams were able to bring their expertise in adhesives from its Post It and tape brands to bear on the first aid category. 

“It’s something we’ve been working toward, and with our shared consumer and healthcare labs, we were able to advance our technology to a place where we really were excited about the results we were getting,” he said. “That’s the cool thing about our company as a consumer first aid company — we make all of our adhesives, we can tweak them to meet that need of consumers, whereas most other companies are buying off-the-shelf solutions from other chemical companies.” 

Introduced in May, Nexcare Duo offers a flexible, water-resistant fabric bandage in various sizes that uses a silicone adhesive technology and offers full-wound protection that can hold up to handwashing. The product, Berens said, solves for kids and adults who generally avoid wound care offerings to get around the pain of removal. 3M discovered during consumer research that the need was there, but consumers had a hard time articulating the need for a different approach to bandage adhesion and removal. 

“There was some of that behavior which was just avoidance of the category because of that experience that they assumed they needed to go through,” Berens said. “When we started to do more specific in-depth research related to Nexcare Duo and our iterations there, it was about making them notice that it provided a different experience,” he said. “One of the really exciting things about the project is that it does somewhat reset the consumer belief in how products can perform.”

That’s the cool thing about our company as a consumer first aid company — we make all of our adhesives, we can tweak them to meet that need of consumers, whereas most other companies are buying off-the-shelf solutions from other chemical companies.”
— Peter Berens, global portfolio leader for 3M’s skin health and wellness business and its consumer health and safety division.
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At Welly, Conlon said the persistence of pandemic-era stock-up shopping is translating to consumer demand for more high-quality products. Last year, the company launched its Excursion kit, a 130-piece first aid kit sold exclusively online that offers a larger version of its popular first aid kit sold in stores. The first aid kits complement the company’s smaller tins and bandage sets. Consumer demand also led the company to introduce a 100-count bandage box. 

“That was a response to people saying, ‘I just need a ton of bandages,’” she said. “We’ve been working on responding to what people are asking for, and we’ll continue to kind of iterate on that.”

Conlon said the company’s Face Savers — transparent hydrocolloid bandages meant to cover pimples or shaving nicks in a discreet way — also are popular among consumers who want to have plenty on hand in a portable way, leading the company to launch a 72-count offering with a thin tin for on-the-go consumers. 

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Welly also introduced its Handy Bandies, which are made to cover cuts and wounds on the hands. The tins include long bandages for fingers, as well as bandages designed for knuckles and fingertips. Like the rest of the company’s bandages, the Handy Bandies are designed to look good while being functional, and Welly recently launched Handy Bandies Veggie, which feature bandages and a tin printed with vegetable patterns.

“Our design team works really hard to make sure we’re coming out with new prints and patterns, and responding to trends,” Conlon said. “But also what we see people enjoy about Welly is that purpose and fun are always blending together.”

[Related Content: Eyes — and ears — on the horizon: Trends driving eye and ear care]

Education and Collaboration
First aid, like much of the OTC/healthcare space, occupies a dual role of offering products while also serving as a resource for patients — a role that has only increased throughout the pandemic as consumers embraced self-care. In store this can mean helping pharmacists serve as an information source. 

“Pharmacy staff and leadership have a real interest in being a source of information, so we provide training for those pharmacists and staff, as well as easily accessible information for the consumer via the retailer,” 3M’s Berens said. He noted that as more consumers search online, there’s a need for companies to adapt. 

“There’s a lot of help that we can provide online for consumers who may not be asking the pharmacist like they would have previously,” he said. “So we’ve had to look at how our search terms align to what consumers are really looking for, how the content that we have out online — both in written and video form — help meet those needs that are being searched for? That’s been a big focus for our business globally because it’s a worldwide trend and we have a great knowledge base as a company from which to help meet that need.”

J&J’s Kelly concurred, noting that Band-Aid and Neosporin brands have been working to build out online educational content with an eye toward providing relevant resources to help consumers shop the space. 

“We’ve brought a new educational focus on the proper wound care regimen, really helping to debunk the myths for consumers around why you should first cleanse a wound with an antiseptic wash cleanser and then treat wounds with a topical antibiotic like Neosporin, and then protect and cover a wound with a Band-Aid brand adhesive bandage,” she said. “Today, only 3% of consumers are actually following that total three-step regimen, so we have a huge opportunity to educate and partner with those solutions.”

Kelly noted that in addition to curated online education and new store signage, the company also is once again partnering with Target for a build-your-own first aid kit promotion, emphasizing preparedness, as well as driving traffic and spurring product discovery. 

Product discovery also is an important area of collaboration for first aid suppliers and retailers online, particularly as e-commerce sales remain strong. 

“As shopping behaviors change and things become much more omnichannel, we’ve been working with platforms like Shipt or Instacart to make discerning products really easy for people, or bringing great content onto their websites and their platform,” said Welly’s Conlon. “That way, if you’re researching and you’re thinking ahead because you want to make a quick trip to the store or you want to buy online, we’ve made it really seamless to have that in-store discovery experience online.”  

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