REX Awards 2021: OTC

Now more than ever, over-the-counter medications are consumers’ first choice when they suffer from aches and pains, cough and cold, insomnia, or other maladies. Taking health matters into their own hands has long been a consumer trend, and the COVID-19 crisis made it even more difficult or even unappealing to visit a doctor’s office. 

While OTC products can help drive retail sales, the category also offers another financial benefit. According to a joint study by IRI and the Consumer Health Products Association in 2019, each dollar spent on OTC medicines saves the U.S. healthcare system approximately $7.20, totaling nearly $146 billion in annual savings. The study also found that nearly 90% of consumers who treat a condition with an OTC medicine would have sought professional medical treatment if OTC options were not available. 

Some manufacturers have stood out in their ability to help retailers compete in this complex arena. This month, DSN recognizes some of the innovation leaders in OTC medicines. Here are this year’s Retail Excellence Awards – OTC.


ADM Protexin
Research forms the basis of innovation at the probiotic company ADM Protexin. The Doral, Fla.-based company, which makes Bio-Kult products, developed its own probiotic strains, identified with the initials PXN. The lineup includes Bio-Kult Original, which targets the digestive and immune system; Bio-Kult Migréa, which targets the head, Bio-Kult Mind, which targets cognitive function; and others. 

In 2020, the brand launched Bio-Kult S. Boulardii. Saccharomyces boulardii is a yeast strain that the company said is well known within the health food industry, and the product also has vitamin D3 to support the normal function of the immune system. Also launched last year was Bio-Kult Boosted, answering consumer demand for a higher CFU count of the original Bio-Kult formulation, with vitamin B12 to help the normal function of the immune system. 

Bio-Kult has a manufacturing facility in Somerset, England, and the products are manufactured to regulatory and cGMP standards. The products, which are non-GMO, are free of artificial colors and flavors, eggs, gluten and nuts, with guaranteed viability to the end of the two-year shelf life without needing to be refrigerated. 

The company ensures new products are efficacious, well researched and produced to high quality standards. “Our passion and commitment to taking the time to get it just right is just one of the reasons we continue to be the market leaders in the live bacteria industry,” said Janine Barlow, product development director at ADM Protexin.

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Avadim Health 
Avadim Health saw that one of the biggest gaps in retail was in topical solutions for leg cramps and muscle spasms. “There was nothing over the counter that was clinically proven to prevent, relieve or reduce symptoms,” said Chris Sposato, vice president of consumer health. In 2017, the Asheville, N.C.-based company launched Theraworx Relief, available as a topical foam and topical spray. 

Leg cramps and muscle spasms are becoming more common, Sposato said, because they are a side effect of many commonly prescribed medications. As the population ages, more adults are using inhalers, statins and other medications. Also common is restless leg syndrome, which the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke said afflicts between 7% to 10% of the U.S. population. Since leg cramps and RLS tend to happen at nighttime, using the topical product also helps people sleep. 

Sposato said feedback from a national retail chain indicated that sales of Theraworx Relief delivered approximately 90% incremental revenue in the external pain products category over the previous 12 months, as consumers had not been purchasing topical pain relief products before. “We want to be a company that delivers differentiated solutions, not just items that are similar to items that are already in the marketplace,” Sposato said. Avadim, which also makes Theraworx Protect Advanced Hygiene and Barrier System, Theraworx U-Pak for Daily Urinary Health, and other products, plans to launch more SKUs this year. 

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Bausch + Lomb 
A driving force in the eye care industry for more than 165 years, Bausch + Lomb is a fully integrated eye care company. With headquarters in Bridgewater, N.J., it manufactures and distributes a wide range of eye care products to meet the needs of eye care professionals, patients and consumers. Its consumer healthcare portfolio of OTC products focused on contact lens solutions, dietary supplements and eye drops.

Bausch + Lomb uses consumer and data-driven insights, direct feedback from customers, and its own research and development to produce products that address the evolving eye care needs of consumers. “This cohesive approach, coupled with our company’s flexible, nimble culture, empowers the organization to quickly tackle and deliver meaningful innovation, so we can make a positive, tangible difference in people’s lives,” said Joe Gordon, U.S. president of Bausch + Lomb.  

Among the company’s recent new product launches is Lumify redness reliever eye drops, which gained its initial U.S. approval in 2017, and ocular vitamins PreserVision AREDS 2. New in 2021 is Alaway Preservative Free antihistamine eye drops, which Bausch + Lomb said are the first over-the-counter preservative-free antihistamine eye drops approved by the Food and Drug Administration to temporarily relieve itchy eyes due to animal hair, dander, grass, pollen and ragweed. 

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Sublingual sprays are an effective delivery system because they absorb into the bloodstream in less than 30 seconds. A solution that is sprayed under the tongue bypasses the digestive system and does not need fillers or binders. That’s the idea behind itSpray by Benesprays, which is designed to be convenient, easy to use and portable. 

“The inspiration behind itSpray solutions is a natural and long-term approach to health and wellness,” said Kimberly Stiele, who founded Largo, Fla.-based Benesprays in 2018. “Living a healthy lifestyle is based on consistency and habits, which our solutions help to create.” For example, maintaining a consistent sleep schedule is important for physical and mental well-being, so the brand offers DREAMit, which contains such natural ingredients as valerian root and 5HTP. 

Other products in the itSpray line include CHARGEit for sustained energy with B vitamins, as well as gingko and ginseng to support focus. “People need energy to start the new year strong and accomplish their resolutions,” Stiele said. “Especially this year.” There also is BOOSTit vitamin spray with nutrients to support the body’s immune system, support gut health and shorten the duration of a cold. There also are hand sanitizers that are offered in a pack of five and contain more than 60% alcohol. 


GSK Consumer Healthcare 
GSK Consumer Healthcare offers a large range of products in digestive health, oral care, pain relief, respiratory, and vitamins, minerals and supplements. Its U.S. portfolio includes such brands as Advil, Excedrin, Centrum, ChapStick, Emergen-C, Polident, Preparation-H, Robitussin, Sensodyne, Theraflu and Tums. 

“These beloved brands help consumers get well and stay well, so they and their families can live healthier lives every day,” said Beth Gaeta, head of U.S. innovation. GSK is based in the U.K. and has U.S headquarters in Warren, N.J. “Importantly, we focus not only on delivering a critical functional benefit, but also on using innovation to create a lasting and memorable emotional connection with consumers, that helps us be the first choice to support people’s health-and-wellness journeys,” Gaeta said. 

Last year, GSK Consumer Healthcare switched its Voltaren Arthritis Gel from prescription to OTC, making prescription-strength relief more accessible to arthritis sufferers. Also in pain relief, the company launched Advil Dual Action, a combination of acetaminophen and ibuprofen. New this year in oral care is Pronamel Mineral Boost toothpaste, designed to help replenish the vital minerals that keep enamel strong and teeth white, as well as Polident Pro Partials, a product range for partial denture wearers.

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With a focus on safety and science-based research, HempFusion strives to stand out in the exploding CBD category. The Denver-based company works with third-party testing labs to make sure products are manufactured correctly and meet regulatory compliance. It also works with a toxicology organization to conduct NOAEL, or no observed adverse effect level toxicology reviews. “We know what we have formulated is safe for consumers to use,” said CEO and co-founder Jason Mitchell.  

Among HempFusion’s products is a line of FDA drug-listed OTC topicals. “The No. 1 reason why people are seeking them out is for pain,” Mitchell said. The challenge is that manufacturers cannot make pain claims related to CBD. So HempFusion Pain Relief Balm, Pain Relief Cream, Pain Relief Gel, Sports Pain Relief Balm and Sports Pain Relief Cream contain such active ingredients as menthol, which is one of many ingredients in the FDA OTC monograph. The topicals also contain skin-nourishing ingredients that include aloe vera and broad spectrum CBD extract.

New from HempFusion are two gummies. One contains 10 mg of CBD and 100 mg of an organic elderberry immune complex ingredient, Eldermune. The other is a cherry-flavored gummy. Also, HempFusion recently announced that it transitioned its line of CBD tinctures to USDA Certified Organic. There also is Probulin, a wholly owned subsidiary that makes probiotics, including digestive probiotics that use the MAKTrek 3-D delivery system. HempFusion is publicly traded on the Toronto Stock Exchange. 


Infirst Healthcare
The product portfolio at Infirst Healthcare is anchored by the antacid brand Mylanta and the infant gas relief medicine Mylicon. Mylanta, which was the fastest-growing major antacid brand of any type in 2020, provides a broad portfolio of fast and strong multi-symptom antacid/anti-gas remedies. Mylicon, the fastest-growing infant anti-gas medicine in 2020, launched Infants’ Mylicon Daily Probiotic Drops to help manage crying and fussiness associated with colic. 

“Infirst’s mission is to make known drugs better by delivering on unmet needs from untapped consumer insights for a better consumer healthcare experience,” said Gigi Leporati, marketing director of digestive health. “With Mylanta, we have developed formulations that deliver outstanding relief with consumer-preferred sensory experiences: smooth, creamy liquids that coat and soothe with innovative, great-tasting flavors, such as lemon-mint, vanilla-caramel, honey-chamomile and new chocolate-mint.”

Leporati said that solid antacid dosage forms are the most popular, and 80% of consumers want relief with one tablet and just one dose. With that in mind, the Westport, Conn.-based company launched Mylanta One, a strong multi-symptom acid and gas relief medicine that combines three powerful ingredients in a chewable fast-acting tablet available in berry ginger and lemon mint flavors.

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Johnson & Johnson 
For more than 130 years, Johnson & Johnson Consumer Health has been inspired by the needs of consumers, who now are increasingly health conscious, empowered and proactively searching for better outcomes. The company, which is driven to improve the personal health of consumers around the world, offers a robust portfolio of OTC and health-and-wellness products that are rooted in science and endorsed by professionals. This includes a range of products across such key categories as allergy, digestive health and pain relief and in well-known brands that include Imodium, Motrin, Pepcid, Tylenol and Zyrtec.

Johnson & Johnson Consumer Health said it stays close to consumers to understand their needs, preferences and unique experiences, and combines these insights with superior science to make differentiated products that will have a meaningful impact in consumers’ lives. In 2021, the company will launch Zyrtec in a range of new sizes and Motrin IB Migraine Ibuprofen Liquid Gels. It also will continue to build and meet increased demand for Tylenol and Pepcid. 

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Newell Brands
Sunbeam Pain Relief, a division of Atlanta-based Newell Brands, offers a range of products that ease common cramps, muscle fatigue, pain and stiffness. Products include heating pads and come in a variety of sizes to suit the area of pain. With XpressHeat technology, the user can treat pain fast with heat they can feel in just 30 seconds. Sunbeam also offers Heat Wraps designed specifically for neck and shoulder pain, back pain and joint pain. 

Deep consumer insights drive the innovation at Sunbeam. “We believe in putting the consumer at the heart of all that we do,” said Kelli Wright, associate manager of product marketing. “Sunbeam is purpose driven to make a positive difference in people’s lives. Product innovation is developed specifically based on the consumer wants and needs.”  

The consumer research identified portability as an unmet need in the heating pad category, so Sunbeam released the GoHeat Cordless Heating Pad in 2020. It provides targeted, high-level heat therapy for up to four hours on low setting, with a rechargeable battery for relief at home or on the go. Sunbeam will extend the product line with the new GoHeat USB Powered Heating Pad, a compact, travel-friendly heating pad that straps in place to provide hands-free, high-level heat therapy on the go with a USB port (not included). Also in 2021, Sunbeam will launch its largest heating pad yet, a 20-by-24-in. XXL-size plush pad that is 60% larger than a Sunbeam Standard Size Heating Pad.

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PharmaCare US
Elderberry is one of the hottest ingredients around now, and PharmaCare US, which makes the Sambucol Black Elderberry line of products, stands out in this crowded space. “We created the category, first off,” said Art Rowe-Cerveny, vice president of marketing. “What makes us different is the three P’s: place, production and potency.” 

Sambucol Black Elderberry uses elderberries grown in a specific region in Europe. The berries have been cultivated for centuries, mainly used for dyes. Over time, the berries became very dark and that made them nutritional powerhouses. For production, the company uses a proprietary process that does not use alcohol and preserves as much of the berry as possible to make it into syrup. The potency is the third factor, Rowe-Cerveny said, as it takes a significant amount of elderberry to provide benefits for immune support. 

San Diego-based PharmaCare US is part of the Australian company PharmaCare. When the U.S. company was founded in 2009, it acquired the Sambucol Black Elderberry brand, years before anyone knew about elderberry or looked to retailers for immune support products. As interest in elderberry increases, Rowe-Cerveny said inferior products risk losing a category shopper, which is why SambuCol has been focused exclusively on elderberry products for 11 years. 

“We are not a me-too,” he said. “We know when people use our product they enjoy it, and they perceive a benefit.” 


Prestige Consumer Healthcare 
Prestige Consumer Healthcare has a diverse portfolio of brands, including Monistat, Summer’s Eve, BC, Goody’s, Clear Eyes, DenTek, Dramamine, Fleet, Chloraseptic, Luden’s, Compound W, Little Remedies, Boudreaux’s Butt Paste, Nix and Debrox. The Tarrytown, N.Y.-based company also has international brands: Gaviscon antacid in Canada, Hydralyte hydration products, and the Fess line of nasal and sinus care products in Australia.

The company points to several factors that make it an innovation leader, including a seasoned internal team of category experts, a supportive management structure, and a deep connection with the consumer. “Everything we do starts and ends with the consumer. True Innovation is driven by insights with the goal of improving the lives of our consumers” said Joseph Juliano, vice president of marketing.

The strategy for Prestige Consumer Healthcare is to invest for growth to build brands and ensure organic long-term growth across its portfolio. Among its newest products is Summer’s Eve Active Chafe Gel, a long-lasting, dual-action formula that glides on smoothly and dries to a silky, powder-dry feel to both prevent and relieve chafing and irritation on delicate areas. Chafing is a common problem and, in an in-home use test, 90% of women who used Active Chafe Gel for two weeks said they would purchase the product. Summer’s Eve Active Chafe Gel is lightweight and nongreasy, as well as paraben-free and safe for everyday use.

Quest Products
The mission for Quest Products is to give people the power to solve their own healthcare problems. The Pleasant Prairie, Wis.-based company does this by developing its own products and by partnering with inventors and entrepreneurs. Its brands include Alocane burn remedy products, breatheWell Nasal Filter products, Clinere earwax tools, CopperFixx Pain Relief Cream, OraCoat XyliMelts dry mouth products and ProVent Skin Tag Remover. 

Much of the growth at Quest, a portfolio company of Promus Equity Partners, has been through acquisitions. In 2019, Quest acquired SunBurnt and First Degree brands of burn and sun recovery products from Welmedix Consumer Healthcare. In 2020, it acquired Summit Pharmaceuticals/Alliance Labs and added the Enemeez and DocuSol brands of bowel care products to its lineup of self-care products. 

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Reese Pharmaceutical
Founded in 1907, Reese Pharmaceutical is a fourth generation family-run business that operates two facilities, totaling more than 40,000 sq. ft. The Cleveland-based company manufactures Reese’s OTC branded products and private-label products that are sold to national and regional retailers and wholesalers. The company builds its success around focusing on being a trusted vendor, and prides itself on providing excellent service levels and prompt responses from customer service and sales associates. 

Reese’s Pinworm Medicine is the company’s feature brand, launched in 1986. In private label, Reese’s focus, which historically has been on niche items in feminine hygiene, analgesics and cough-cold, recently has expanded into digestive and sleep. Within the digestive category, the company is launching private-label versions of popular softgel laxatives and gas relief formulas. For sleep items, the company currently is focused on several softgel formulations, featuring diphenhydramine as the active ingredient. Also in the works are several new cough-cold multi-symptom formulas. 

In 2021, Reese Pharmaceutical will expand its offerings across all OTC categories where it has a foothold. Softgels will continue to be a focus in the digestive category, while expanding into other such categories as cough-cold and sleep. “Reese is always evolving — from improving and expanding its facilities to developing unique products — and providing new and better solutions,” said CEO Mike Svec. 


Swiss company Similasan started 40 years ago, selling hay fever remedies in a pharmacy in Lucerne, Switzerland. Similasan makes OTC homeopathic remedies, primarily eye and ear drops, that are available in eye/ear sections in retail. The products cover such ailments as allergies, dryness, earache, pink eye, styes and others. The company also makes pediatric cough-cold syrups. Its U.S. headquarters are located in Highlands Ranch, Colo. 

Similasan uses natural active ingredients and is free of vasoconstrictors and harsh preservatives. The products leverage what nature has to offer to help the body get better. “We are not steadfastly against artificial ingredients,” said Yann Pigeaire, vice president of marketing. “It’s just that the power of nature is often overlooked. There is a place for both.”

New items from Similasan include Pink Eye Nighttime Gel, a companion product to Pink Eye Relief Drops. This thicker formula is optimized for nighttime use. The company also is launching Swimmer’s Ear Relief Drops, which help with clogged ears without burning or stinging from alcohol. Customers and patients are still the primary sources of inspiration for the company’s innovations. “Whenever our formulator feels a particular product can help patients get better, we consider commercializing it under the Similasan brand,” Pigeaire said.