Nothing to sneeze at: Cough-cold products shift to meet trends

When consumers get the sniffles, they have many questions besides whether it’s a cold or allergies, and whether they should take time off work. More and more, people also want to know which over-the-counter products are available, what they contain and which symptoms the medicines can relieve. If a child is sick, consumers worry about the correct dosage to administer, and whether the products are safe.

The Consumer Healthcare Products Association, citing Nielsen numbers, reported that U.S. consumers spent more than $34.3 billion on OTC medicines at retail in 2017, up from $33.6 billion in 2016. Cough-cold products are a large category, as people spent more than $8.6 billion on upper respiratory products in 2017. Also, people spent more than $4.1 billion on OTC internal analgesics, or pain relief products, in 2017.

The growth of the cough-cold set provides opportunities for retailers to increase sales in a key category, but manufacturers said one side effect of the expansion is consumer confusion.

“While categories typically see one segment rise and others fall, allowing for space management, the cough-cold category is seeing growth across nearly all segments, which is putting pressure on retailers to manage assortment and allot space,” said Dawn Hampton, senior director of marketing for Johnson & Johnson Consumer. “Data suggests that 43% of shoppers don’t know the cause of their symptoms, and while they use 2.2 products on average, choosing which product can be difficult.”

To make matters more complex for consumers, these are usually urgent shopping trips, taken when the shopper is not feeling well or has to buy something quickly for a sick child. “Consumers don’t want to spend a ton of time in aisle nor know there are additional solutions behind the counter,” Hampton said.

Johnson & Johnson offers a range of adult and children’s cough-cold products from Tylenol Cold + Flu to Sudafed. The products address cold symptoms, head pain, fever and body aches. Sudafed is designed to relieve nasal congestion, which the company said is one of the most disruptive symptoms for cold sufferers. Recently, the brand launched Sudafed Pressure + Pain cough liquid. Hampton pointed out that liquids are the fastest-growing form within the sinus segment.

Natural products also are on-trend now, and in 2018 Johnson & Johnson acquired the pediatric cough syrup brand Zarbee’s Naturals, which offers products that contain honey, melatonin, ivy leaf, zinc and other ingredients.

New and old ingredients
Louis M. Machin, managing director of Lifelab Health in Coconut Creek, Fla., agreed that the category is growing. Yet, he noted that consumers are overwhelmed by the choices since many of the new products are “me too” SKUs, which he said “serve no clear purpose other than brand expansion.”

The crowded category is difficult for consumers to navigate. “Consumers suffer from ‘confusion at first sight’ when approaching the category for both adults and kids cough-cold remedies,” Machin said. “Moms today, especially millennial moms, are looking for safe natural alternatives to traditional allopathic drug solutions for their child’s cough or cold.”

honeyworks cough-coldLifelab Health offers a full line of children’s and adult organic honey cough-cold products under the brand HoneyWorks. The company launched HoneyWorks Kids in 2018, which includes cough syrups and throat spray. One of the HoneyWorks Kids cough syrups and HoneyWorks Adult cough syrup contain dextromethorphan, DXM, HBr cough suppressant. “Most adults prefer to have an active ingredient without any unnecessary additives,” Machin said.

Products containing the cough-relief ingredient dextromethorphan are favorites for many consumers. According to a 2016 study commissioned by CHPA, OTC availability of DXM will save consumers and the healthcare system between $21 billion and $31 billion over the next 10 years. The estimated savings were based on the fact that consumers could take a product with DXM and continue on with their busy days, and avoid unnecessary trips to the doctor.

Big cautions for little kids
Children’s cough-cold medicines are a hot topic in the category. Parents are concerned about ingredients that their kids are ingesting, and also are uncertain about proper dosing. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, citing figures from the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System — Cooperative Adverse Drug Event Surveillance project, estimated that each year in the United States, approximately 60,000 emergency department visits result from unintentional medication overdoses among children under the age of five years old. Among those, 5% are due to medication errors, such as when caregivers give too much medicine by mistake.

To make it easier to administer the proper dosages to children, manufacturers have developed single-dose packaging solutions. For example, Drkids, a brand of Tamarac, Fla.-based Unipharma, offers a line of premeasured single-use vials of liquid pediatric cough-cold and allergy products. The products include natural cough syrups, natural nasal drops, allergy relief, and pain and fever solution. They contain such natural ingredients as Himalayan salt, agave syrup, English Ivy Leaf and others. The products are sugar-, alcohol- and dye-free.

“Our brand is mostly a millennial brand,” said Edgar Arrieta, business development manager at Unipharma. “Millennials are trying to avoid the use of drugs, and they want something natural. All our products are clean label.”

The term “clean label” generally refers to ingredients that are natural, familiar and easy to understand. For example, the Natural Cough Syrup, which is available for children between the ages of 2-to-5 years old and for children 6-to-12 years old, contains organic agave syrup, which Arrieta said has less potential for containing allergens than honey does. Agave also has a lower glycemic index. In light of the increasing obesity rates nationwide, parents are trying to avoid feeding their kids sugar with their medicine.

The premeasured single-dose vials are important not only for administering the correct dosage, but also for preventing contamination, especially in the nasal product. “With a regular bottle, you put the tip in the kid’s nose, and that liquid gets contaminated right away,” Arrieta said. “With our unidose, you don’t have to worry about cross contamination. You open the tiny vial, apply the liquid in the kid’s nose, then you throw it away, so you’re not reusing any contaminated liquid.”

Seeking alternatives
The growth in homeopathic remedies can help retailers drive sales in the entire cough-cold category.

“Today’s consumers value having choices in over-the-counter medicines, and products with better-for-you ingredients like homeopathic medicines are poised for growth,” said Gary Wittenberg, vice president of national accounts at Newtown Square, Pa.-based Boiron USA. “Based on a need for more p
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