It was probably not a miraculous disappearance of sore throats and the like across the nation that caused sales of cough sweets and throat lozenges to fall in the past year by 5%.

Grocers, independent pharmacies and c-stores, the largest distribution channel for sore throat remedies, all felt the brunt of reluctant consumers last year.

Analysts believe that consumers are switching from lozenges to multi-symptom products or decongestants but also that a lack of innovation has also downgraded the sector in the eyes of both the consumer and the retailer.

The ingredients used in remedies are regarded as being less powerful than liquids, but recent brand acquisitions and mergers have also played their part, affecting NPD and promotional spend, says Mintel.

Suppliers such as Reckitt Benckiser, which recently acquired Strepsils from Boots, also feel retailers' price competition and focus on own label development have to take some blame.

Strepsils brand manager Chris Brannan says: "Retailers have put pressure on pricing in the fixture, which has led suppliers to focus on other categories."

NPD is, however, now evident with suppliers pursuing a strategy of adding greater functionality. Strepsils, for example, is launching a new menthol variant, Strepsils Sore Throat and Blocked Nose, with the aim of trading up consumers through added benefit, says Brannan.

Lockets will also be on TV this winter with a £1m 'Proud sponsors of the British winter' campaign that will focus on all the things the general public love to hate about the winter, including waiting at a cold bus stop and stepping in an icy puddle.

Forecourts were one of only two distribution channels - the other being multiple pharmacies - to add value in the sore throat market during the past year, according to market intelligence company IMS Pharmatrend, a fact that suppliers attribute to the sector's tendency to see the non-medicated end of the market as everyday products that have a role to play all year round.

"In addition, they have a larger range and also stock products close to the till, driving impulse purchases," adds Cadbury Trebor Bassett's head of customer relations Mike Tipping.

Fisherman's Friend, which is pushing its Cherry variant through sampling and advertising this year, endorses this as a successful approach. Area business manager Martin Stimson says: "The successful traders are the ones that make a lot of this category and see it as a year-round market that they can really exploit."n