Winter and spring 2016 was one of the wettest periods Australia has seen for a number of years. The wet conditions stimulated high natural growth and promoted the spread of pollen-containing grasses, resulting in a particularly bad season for asthma and allergy-related conditions. Sales tracking data from QuintilesIMS showed that over November/December 2016, sales for asthma treatment products increased by 25% versus the prior year in Victoria.
The wet weather also triggered a rise in allergy and hayfever remedies which increased by 3.3% on last year’s allergy season (early September through to the end of January), driven by Nasal Anti-Allergy products (up 17.9%) and Nasal Corticosteroids (up 5.6%).
While antihistamine tablets grew at a slower pace, sales for its three major brands provided the strongest contribution to the category including Telfast (up 8.7% on prior year), Zyrtec (up 6.3%) and Claratyne (up 6%).
Allergy season was very different across the states. Victorian sales for the allergy and hayfever category increased by 19% on last year; a contrast to the other states that recorded a decline in sales. Victoria went from having 27% of national sales in 2015 to generating almost a third (32%) of national sales last year, to bring it in line with the size of NSW. The trend difference highlights the difficulty in predicting where and when hayfever spikes are likely to strike, making inventory management a key consideration for this category.
Unlike allergy treatment products, asthma treatments were up significantly across all states with SA, NT and ACT all showing double digit growth. However, once again, Victoria (with growth of 15%) was the clear leader, driving almost half (43%) of all category value gains - adding weight to the argument that Victoria experienced an unusually intense allergy season last year.
While allergy remedies might be a small category relative to other OTC categories, it, along with categories such as analgesics and gastro-intestinal remedies, is a key destination category for pharmacy. Categories that address ailments requiring specialist advice from a trusted expert, are the ones that the pharmacy channel needs to really leverage to differentiate them from the rest of the market. As witnessed during the thunderstorm crisis in November last year, when Australians experience health challenges, they trust their local pharmacy to be able to step in at a short notice with the right product and advice to restore them to health.
With seasonality being a significant factor, it is important for pharmacists to be prepared to deal with allergy-related conditions particularly during key times of the year. While there is a clear uptick in sales between early September and the end of January, the impacts of weather can alter exactly when the season hits and it is important that product availability and range can withstand the unpredictability of the season.
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