Not surprisingly, it appears as if the first aid category is ahead of the curve — and a bit of a lifesaver for consumers during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Historically dependent on preparedness shopping, the category is perfectly suited to thrive during the crisis, as consumers have become more mindful of what they need to stock up on in order to minimize trips to the store.
Suppliers and retailers in the space said that helping consumers be prepared for anything plays a large part in their efforts, in terms of both assortment and education. At the same time, preparedness has not hampered innovation nor efforts on the part of retailers to play up their store brands in the space. Additionally, players in the first aid category are looking for better ways to meet consumer needs by stocking better-tailored first aid kits at a time when the segment is seeing strong sales growth.
Innovation in Focus
One of the companies making the biggest splash in first aid is Welly, which sits at the intersection of preparedness and innovation. Founded by Eric Ryan, the person behind vitamin brand Olly and household cleaning brand Method — two brands that shook up their respective categories when they launched — Welly debuted last year as a Target exclusive. The goal was to bring to the category a new aesthetic — brightly colored, patterned fabric bandages packaged in tins — and mindset, namely that preparedness can look good and that bandages can be worn as a badge of honor.
“Welly’s launch was all about really looking at where a category had missed really responding to who the customer is and what their lifestyle is, finding a place to bring lifestyle and personality into a more of a need-based category,” said Laura Conlon, Welly’s vice president of marketing. “And first aid couldn’t have been more bland. [It] was missing the element of true portability and true expression and fashion in the space.”
When it debuted, Welly had endcaps featuring its flagship Bravery Bandages — flex-fabric bandages packaged in tins, sorted by size and featuring see-through plastic to easily identify which bandage a consumer was about to use. The sides of the tins also outline each bandage and how many are inside.
“We decided to bring really bright, bold, colorful bandages that were also all flex fabric or more performance-based into this space,” Conlon said. “We found that people are really buying Welly to be prepared, to put it in their car for if they need it or when they need it. Seeing that we could shift the mindset to be prepared and being ready, I’ve found that people find that really comforting, particularly now in COVID times when there’s a lot of unknowns, so you really want to feel like you’ve got your bases covered.”
Innovation is not just reserved for suppliers, though. Indeed, the first aid tape, bandage, gauze and cotton segment is dominated by private label, based on IRI data for the year ended July 12 in U.S. multi-outlets. Recognizing the potential, CVS Pharmacy also has been bolstering the positioning of its private-label offerings in first aid by bringing innovation to the space alongside national brands and category mainstays.
“At CVS Pharmacy, we are proud to lead with innovation from our store-brand products within the first aid category, while ensuring we also have the extensive national brand options for our customers — ensuring we always are staying on trend and identifying unique marketplace opportunities,” said Brenda Lord, CVS Health vice president of store brands and quality assurance. “First aid and wound care is a category we’ve been innovating in for years, from launching unique Manuka Honey Bandages to diversifying our first aid kits to suit a variety of needs that are not one-size-fits-all.”
The retailer’s CVS Health store-brand Manuka Honey Bandages are sold in two iterations — adhesive strips and spot bandages, both of which are waterproof and infused with medical-grade honey meant to help maintain a moist environment for optimal wound healing.
At Randob Labs, innovation has taken the form of new packaging and innovative delivery methods for its flagship Sting-Kill product.
For Sting-Kill, Randob Labs president Jim Creagan said the company worked with the Emerson Group to create packaging with clear benefits messaging. Creagan credited the messaging as playing a role in the product getting chain-wide distribution at CVS Pharmacy. The packaging was featured on the company’s signature Sting-Kill swabs and its newer Sting-Kill wipes, which offer a convenience-minded approach to neutralizing the pain associated with bee and wasp stings.
“Sting-Kill swabs and wipes are single-use, convenient and unique delivery forms, but more importantly are extremely easy to use,” Creagan said. “This is especially important when a sting first occurs so as to administer immediate relief. Both Sting-Kill swabs and wipes portability lends it to easily fit into a backpack, car glove compartment or medicine cabinet.”
Randob also is highlighting its Chiggerex as a product that is essential for consumers in the 19 states where chiggers are highly concentrated, or the 12 states where they can be a nuisance. Having revived the once-defunct brand after acquiring it, Creagan said that it still sells well among those who need it.
“Retailers in these affected areas should stock Chiggerex because it continues to be the No. 1 selling brand for the treatment of chigger bites and has a large, loyal following because its unique formula works so well,” he said. “In fact, during its short disappearance from the market until Randob Labs acquired the brand, consumers were searching where to find Chiggerex and some were paying near $50 a bottle on eBay.”
The Whole Kit and Caboodle
As the COVID-19 pandemic has worn on, it is having an impact on what shoppers buy, particularly when it comes to stocking up for any eventuality to avoid an unnecessary and potentially risky trip to the store.
The result is a renaissance of sorts for the humble first aid kit, as well as a makeover in Welly’s case. IRI data shows that first aid kit sales — led by Johnson & Johnson and private label in the No. 1 and No. 2 manufacturer spots — increased 12.2% for the year ended July 12. The growth in the first aid kit segment far outpaces the meager 2.1% growth that first aid accessories saw overall in the same period, and even the solid 4.9% growth that tapes, bandages, gauze and cotton realized.
In addition to its host of pre-made first aid kits, J&J’s Band-Aid brand this year is undertaking a promotion in partnership with Target to allow consumers to take an individualized approach to kit building. The brand’s buildable first aid kit offers a trendy first aid bag with the purchase of qualifying essentials from Band-Aid and J&J’s Benadryl, Motrin, Neosporin and Neutrogena brands. Begun in March, the promotion runs through Oct. 10.
CVS Health undertook a similar promotion this summer with its Build Your Own First Aid Kit program, which offered a free first aid kit with the purchase of three of the retailer’s private-label first aid items. Among the eligible assortment were bandages and antibiotic ointments, as well as cloth tape and gauze rolls.
“Customization is key, and we want to allow our customers to have access to the products they need, when they need it,” Lord said. In addition, she said CVS Pharmacy has been focused on better tailoring its first aid kit offerings to consumers’ needs, noting that the company has launched two major product lines in the past two years.
The first line, the company’s wound care-focused kits, launched in 2019 following in-home research with customers to understand their needs with regard to major wounds and post-operative healing. The five kits in the line include wound-care education about applying items found inside a trial kit, as well as a coupon for a discount on full-size products. In May, CVS Pharmacy followed up the wound care launch with a line focused on various consumer lifestyles.
“First aid kits are an important part of our business to give consumers everything they need,” Lord said. “With both lines we aimed to help the consumer avoid the trial and error that can come with treating an injury, and make it simple for them to get the products they need in a convenient product format.”