World of pain: Self-care, launches bring analgesics big sales

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World of pain: Self-care, launches bring analgesics big sales

By Michael Johnsen - 02/01/2018
Busy consumers are rarely lacking for something that pains them. But consumers concerned about the opioid epidemic, as well as the abuse potential associated with powerful prescription pain relief, have been making the trek to their local pharmacies in search of alternative solutions.

And they are finding those solutions in the OTC aisles.

“As Americans, we have witnessed the growing problems from opioid abuse. No matter the reason or purpose for using opioids, these consumers are experiencing pain, whether it is due to their current condition or due to the issues arising from the lack of current medication options,” Ben Blessing, executive vice president of sales and marketing at Bristol, Tenn.-based NFI Consumer Products, said. “The topical pain market in no way can be a substitute for treatment, but, as opposed to oral OTC analgesics, the side effect profiles are much smaller and the broad ranges of uses are wide, as well.”

Fallout from the opioid epidemic alone does not explain the explosive growth associated with the external analgesic category, which generated $723.6 million in sales across total U.S. multi-outlets for the 52 weeks ended Dec. 3, according to IRI, a Chicago-based market research firm.

One macro trend is the continued migration of healthcare cost to the consumer. “This real shift from managed care to self-care is driving a lot of growth,” Michael McGoohan, chief marketing officer at Warrenville, Ill.-based Performance Health, said. “You’re seeing people shift a little from the oral, [and] topical analgesics are benefitting from that.”

As more consumers turn to self-care of their aches and pains, they also are seeing more options in the pain aisle as manufacturers introduce new options that span different delivery forms and active ingredients.

“In just the past year, the category has seen an explosion of products containing lidocaine, as well as the entrance of new products such as SalonPas [and] PainBloc24 that are offering
longer-term pain relief solutions,” Jodi Murnick, spokesperson at Baltimore-based Vizuri USA, said. “PainBloc24, in particular, offers a category-leading 24-hour pain relief claim when used every day, which will help to bring new consumers to the category.”

John Incledon, CEO of Salonpas maker Hisamitsu America, based in Florham Park, N.J, noted that external analgesics, excluding heat wraps and TENS devices, saw sales rise 17.8% for the 52 weeks ended Dec. 3. “That is a substantial gain, nearly $100 million,” Incledon said. Incidentally, more than $60 million of that increase can be traced to the introduction of Performance Health’s BioFreeze, a pre-existing SKU that shifted channels from professional to mass outlets.

With the pain relief category booming, the difficulty for retailers is in culling their
product selections from a flood of options.

“I don’t envy the role buyers have in this category. They are inundated with innovations that they place bets on and sometimes the bets don’t pay out,” Incledon said. “Take the TENS business, looking at 52 week data, you still see double-digit increases, but looking at 12 week data, virtually every brand is down versus year ago, and some as much as 30% to 40%. This is a
clear indication this segment needs to be re-evaluated for space and assortment.”

McGoohan agreed, adding that education could be one way retailers help consumers navigate a crowded field. “The biggest challenge today is how do you improve the shopability of aisle,” he said. “Retailers and brands need to help explain the differentiation to consumers. What is maybe missing today is a bit of that ‘premiumization’ that you see being so successful in other categories.”

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