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Non-Prescription Medications Take a Recessionary Hit
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Non-Prescription Medications Take a Recessionary Hit

Robert Buckeldee, Product Leadership, The Nielsen Company

SUMMARY: Almost half (46%) of consumers around the world say that the global economic slowdown is having a major impact on the amount of, or type of non-prescription medication they will use with 12% saying they will use them less. Chinese and Latvian consumers look to more natural and traditional remedies, Americans buy cheaper products and Europeans turn to their pharmacist for guidance.

46% of consumers indicated the slowdown would affect the non-prescription medicine they will use…

In a major new study exploring consumer behavior towards self medication and non-prescription medicines, The Nielsen Company highlights the polarizing impact that the global economic slowdown is having. While 46% of consumers around the world indicated that the global economic slowdown would affect the amount or type of non-prescription medicine they will use, the level of agreement ranged from 79% of Chinese to only 5% of Danes.

Regionally, one-third of Europeans and only 31% of North Americans agreed their usage would change, but in Latin America (47%), Middle East/Africa (55%) and Asia Pacific (57%) the levels were significantly higher. It can be concluded that new economic realities coupled with lower relative disposable incomes make maintaining usage of non-prescription medicines more difficult for consumers in many developing countries.

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Changing behaviors

So what changes are likely to occur with consumer’s usage of non-prescription medicines? From a range of options, consumers were asked to identify the main way in which their usage of non-prescription medicines was likely to change. Three factors stand out from the summary slide below, which shows the level of response to each option by region.

Simply opt to use non-prescription medicines less frequently…

First, there is a broad consistency in the percent of changers who will simply opt to use non-prescription medicines less frequently. This behavior will inevitably have an impact on category volumes during the next 12 months.

Second, outside of North America, there is a large base of consumers indicating that they are likely to make more use of natural and traditional remedies. For individual countries, this is particularly high in many Eastern European markets (Baltics, Russia, Czech, Hungary). High levels of response were also recorded in China, the Philippines, Indonesia , Turkey, Brazil and Colombia. However, levels of response to this option in most of Western Europe and North America were much lower.

Take advantage of the opportunity to buy cheaper products…

Third, it is clear that consumers in the United States will take advantage of the opportunity to buy cheaper products—nearly 30% of all those who indicated their usage will change responded that buying cheaper products was the main change. The role of low-priced generic and store brand products in North America has grown significantly in recent years, and consumers understand them to be, in many cases, as effective and trustworthy as mainstream brands. Similarly, in some Western European markets—especially in the Nordic region and Germany—a high proportion of change consumers will be on the lookout for cheaper products.

One other factor that is of some comfort to the retailers and manufacturers of non-prescription medicines is that there is a very low proportion of consumers who respond that they will stop buying these products as a result of the global economic slowdown. Saudi Arabia (16%) and Turkey (14%) had the highest level of response to this among changers, but most other countries were in low single-digit response levels.

Professional guidance

Also of interest from the research is the extent to which consumers in Europe still rely on advice from the pharmacist compared to many other regions of the world. As the chart below shows, consumers were asked to choose, from a variety of options, the most important factors for them in making a purchase of non-prescription medicines.

Globally, across the 50 countries, the key factors are safety and efficacy—’I know it is safe’ and ‘I know it works’. Further down the hierarchy of needs are other factors relating to confidence in the product, branding, familiarity, speed of action and pharmacy advice. Lower still come price and value for money, while the advertising for the product registers very low levels of response from consumers.

Advice from the pharmacist is still highly important in driving product choice…

However, the response from European consumers show that advice from the pharmacist is still highly important in driving product choice, a reason why manufacturers invest millions of Euro across the region in sales forces targeted to the pharmacy trade. This reliance by consumers on pharmacy advice is particularly high in Belgium and Spain, where over half of consumers said it was an important factor for them.

The only other country which produced a response of more than 50% was Thailand. Compare this to the very low level (13%) recorded by consumers in the United States and it is clear that the policy of open access and self-selection of medicines in supermarkets and drugstores has significantly reduced the role of the pharmacist in America in supporting consumers in product choice. Relative to the global average, U.S. consumers are significantly more interested in the product price—33% of consumers said this was an important factor in product choice, a number only bettered in the survey by Japan at 40%. The global average for this factor was below 20%.

Overall, the survey highlights the importance of understanding local consumer needs for the non-prescription medicines sector, a category that remains highly individualized by country, with a regulatory, distribution and marketing framework that is set by local governments and that shows little consistency globally.

About the Nielsen Global Online Consumer Survey

The Nielsen Global Online Consumer Survey, conducted by Nielsen Customized Research, was conducted in March 2009 among over 25,000 Internet users in 50 markets from Europe, Asia Pacific, North and Latin America and the Middle East. The largest half-yearly survey of its kind, the Nielsen Global Online Consumer Confidence and Opinion Survey provides insight into current confidence levels, spending habits/intentions and the major concerns of consumers across the globe.