Focus On: Sunbeam targets pain relief consumers with heat therapy offerings

Pain, yes pain, is doing wonders for the small but growing heating pad segment, and the result is helping companies like Sunbeam build sales and profits from the category. 

While heating pads usually are not found at the top of the list when consumers visit a pharmacy, the approximately $200 million category is gaining more and more traction with shoppers looking for both quick relief from pain, as well as a preventive treatment to ward off the effects and impact of aging and exercise. The result, according to IRI data, is a nearly 10% increase in annual dollar sales and a growing interest among retailers to find more ways to build incremental volume from the category. 

Enter Sunbeam. Not only does the Boca Raton, Fla.-based division of Newell Brands have a large share of this growing $200 million category with its branded products, it also is the leader in the new technologies and formats, driving incremental sales and, by the way, profits. 

“There is no shortage of people in pain,” said Trish Gomez, the director of sales and marketing for Sunbeam’s wellness category and a 30-year veteran of the company. “And, heating pads can provide the relief that these consumers need. Now, we have to educate them about the unique benefits of heating pads and show them just how these products can help them.”

Sunbeam is aggressively attacking the external analgesics market from various standpoints. On one hand, the company is tackling the important task of educating the market by taking appropriate steps to ensure that the proper information is available to consumers through digital advertising, social media and in-store campaigns with such retailers as Walgreens, Walmart and Target. 

“We have updated our packaging to make sure that consumers clearly understand the key messages about how heating pads can help them” Gomez said. “We want pain sufferers to know that heat therapy is clinically proven to relieve pain. Heat accelerates tissue healing by increasing blood flow to the area in pain.”

Additionally, Sunbeam, which is more than 100 years old and also is well known for its kitchen appliances and other housewares, is getting much more active with product introductions. In fact, the days of the one-size-fits-all heating pad are long gone. Replacing that are pads designed for specific needs that target specific body parts. As the industry leader, Gomez and colleague Aimee Yu, a senior brand manager, said that Sunbeam has taken the lead in offering a wide range of products. 

Right now, Sunbeam offers more than 30 different heated pain relief products in various sizes and shapes. Price points range from around $13 to just under $100. 

“There are a lot of trends in pain relief today, and we have to respond to consumer trends in the pain relief segment with products that satisfy specific needs,” said Yu, who joined Sunbeam about five years ago. “First, consumers are looking for more self-care methods across the board, and many see heat therapy as a solution. Second, heating pads can play an important role in reducing muscle tension and stress.”

In addition, she said that both aging baby boomers and younger people are experiencing more pain for various reasons and are looking for alternatives to medications to combat their ailments. “The boomers are getting degenerative diseases where pads can make a difference and younger people are very active, which creates more painful situations. Consumers are being more proactive in the ways that they treat their pain,” Yu said. “The fact that more consumers have dependency concerns and are cognizant of what they put into their bodies is causing more of them to consider heating pads as part of their regimen.”

Gomez and Yu said that household penetration for heating pads is under 40%, meaning that there are many opportunities for retailers to build sales for the basic products in the category. Yet, they also said that innovation in the category is helping consumers who already own a heating pad to consider getting a second or even a third product that might target a specific injury or part of the body. 

Sunbeam is doing its part and more. The company has introduced a number of products to satisfy specific needs. Those include FlexTemp, a corded electric heated wrap that targets the elbow and knee joints and offers a cold therapy option; a heated back wrap that contours to the shape of the back to provide targeted heat therapy for back pain relief; and the FlexFit heated wrap, a long, slim heating pad that can wrap around an arm, elbow, wrist, ankle or lower leg to provide targeted heat therapy. 

Also, the company is offering GoHeat portable heated patches, which include a pair of 3-in. by 5-in. adhesive portable patches that adhere directly to a targeted area and are powered by a lithium-ion rechargeable battery that provides up to eight hours of heat.  

“And, there are more products coming down the road that will expand this category and bring new users into it,” Yu said. “We are focusing on products that provide targeted pain relief.”

Educating retailers and convincing them to give heating pads more visibility and shelf space in their stores is another part of the company’s mission. Sunbeam offers a variety of such point-of-sale materials as off-shelf displays like PDQ trays, side panels and floor stands to make it easier for merchants to merchandise the category throughout their stores and to help explain the specific products, as well as the overall category, to consumers. 

“We meet with retailers on a regular basis to share our story and help them update their planograms to take full advantage of this growing category,” Gomez said. “We can deliver incremental sales and margin dollars for retailers through innovation and consumer education.

Both women said they expect heating pad sales to continue to grow. “The bottom line is that pain is a tough thing to deal with,” Yu said. “Our products can provide both immediate relief and be part of a total solution to help relieve pain and increase blood flow to promote accelerated tissue healing. They will help people have a better life today and a better tomorrow.”