Value sales of over-the-counter remedies slipped this year as shoppers switched to own-label pharmaceutical alternatives

In the year when swine flu became a national obsession it would be reasonable to expect over-the-counter sales to be in rude health but, if anything, they appear a little poorly.

Take cold and flu remedies. Last year value sales were up 8.2% year-on-year [52w/e
4 October 2008] but growth has slumped to just 5%. Meanwhile, adult oral analgesics have also slipped, from 2.4% value sales growth last year to 0.5% this year. So much for the symptoms – what’s the diagnosis?

One reason could be supermarkets pushing down prices in a bid to undercut each other and high-street retailers such as Boots and Superdrug. City analysts raised concerns in June this year about aggressive supermarket pricing eroding value. However, prices appear to have risen during 2009, as The Grocer 33 pricing survey shows a 10-sachet pack of Lemsip was priced at an average of  £2.77 in the big four in January, cost £3.09 in June and £3.63 in November.

A more likely factor is shoppers opting for cheaper own-label remedies at the expense of brands. While own-label products hold a minority share of the market, value sales growth of all own-label OTC products outstripped that of the overall market – with own-label paediatric analgesics up 14.4% and cold and flu remedies up 18.4%.

However, GlaxoSmithKline says it has seen strong sales of branded products such as its multi-symptoms remedy Beechams, which grew 9.1% to £35.7m, adding that supermarkets are continuing to steal share from chemists. An unseasonal sales peak in June/July may have been a result of swine flu, a spokesman says. He adds: “We have yet to see significant pandemic levels in sales but with the flu season still to peak, it is too early to say how big an impact swine flu will have.”

Top launch: Lemsip Max All Night tablets, Reckitt Benckiser
Colds have a habit of arriving just as you are due to make a big presentation/have a job interview/compete in a 24-hour Cluedo marathon. Reckitt Benckiser claims it can help sufferers who want to avoid waking up feeling groggy, launching Lemsip Max All Night tablets in September.

The company says that, as well as soothing symptoms, they will help consumers wake up refreshed and ready to find out what Miss Scarlett’s been up to.

Top Products Survey 2009