Cough-cold traffic gets boost amid strong flu season

Expect more shoppers sniffling in your stores. While this year is not the worst flu season in the past decade, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shared during a press conference at the top of the year that it is a doozy — and it’s far from over. High flu incidence is translating into serious traffic in the cough-cold aisle — with manufacturers like the CDC finding a lot of potential for sustained activity.

“Across the country, we’ve noticed this is a busier cold and flu season than we’ve seen in several years,” James Masterson, marketing director for respiratory and pain at GSK Consumer Healthcare, said. “To monitor the impact of cold and flu on consumers, the Theraflu team created a tool that uses social sentiment as an early predictor of the severity of the season. The current velocity of consumer cold and flu sentiment online could indicate
that this season is far from over, and could last throughout January and February at a very high rate.”

In fact, industry observers said that consumption in the cough-cold segment has been among the strongest in the past decade. And, while that may be bad news for consumers suffering from the flu and colds, it could be great news for retailers and suppliers looking to cash in on their misery.

“The Northern Hemisphere is mirroring flu activities recently seen in the Southern Hemisphere’s last season,” said Gary Wittenberg, vice president of national accounts at Boiron, a French company with U.S. headquarters in Newtown Square, Pa. “Australia’s National Notifiable Diseases Surveillance System reported more than two-and-a-half times more flu cases compared to their last season.”

The biggest winner of this year’s high rate of illness may be those suppliers providing a mucus relief solution, according to Hyland’s president Les Hamilton, who said that the Los Angeles-based homeopathic remedy company’s mucus products have seen high interest.
“Mucus, grape flavor, value packs and nighttime are all trending right now, and not necessarily in that order,” he said. “Our mucus products have been doing very well, [and] we are bringing out value packs next cough/cold season in the baby category. To sleep when you are sick is so key, so offering a nighttime, mucus relief product for kids and babies not only [allows] them sleep, but [lets] mom and dad sleep.”

Beyond mucus, retailers can help optimize sales during the season by adding alternative delivery formats into the mix. Suppliers said that consumers in cough-cold are beginning to demand a delivery method that has invigorated the VMS category — gummies.
“Delivery system is playing a bigger and bigger part,” said Kimberly Weld, vice president at San Diego-based Pharmacare US. “People are busy and on the move, and the delivery systems need to fit their lifestyle. That’s a key reason our Sambucol Gummies have grown so quickly. We pride ourselves in not line-extending beyond what is meaningful
and useful to the consumer.”

Similarly, this season Matrixx Initiatives launched its Zicam Medicated Fruit Drops. “At Zicam, we are always looking for ways to show our consumers that we are there for them,” said M’lou Walker, CEO at the Bridgewater, N.J.-based company. “With our new Medicated Fruit Drops, we hope to bring a delectable mix of flavor into cold shortening, while making a difference in people’s lives.”

Innovative offerings, coupled with a genuine need as flu season rages, is presenting a boom time for cough-cold manufacturers. And though the CDC noted that this flu season has already peaked, the agency said there could be a resurgence in late winter. This means suppliers will have to be nimble enough to meet consumer needs as they change.

“By all measures, this is turning out to be a pretty significant cold flu season,” Phil McWaters, brand director for Vicks at Cincinnati-based Procter & Gamble, said. “The question from here out is how quickly incidence and consumption decline. Some years we see a second spike in March and in others it’s a steady decline through the summer. We really don’t know what to expect, but are preparing for both.”