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Winter Is Coming: How Americans Prepare for Cold/Flu Season
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Winter Is Coming: How Americans Prepare for Cold/Flu Season

Despite warmer-than-usual fall temperatures in many areas of the U.S., winter is undoubtedly coming—and with it comes the cold and flu season. With this in mind, shoppers are likely starting to see signage throughout in-store pharmacies encouraging them to schedule or simply walk-in for their annual flu shot, and the aisles selling cough/cold medicines will see more frequent shoppers during the colder months.

For those consumers that get a tickle in their throat or a runny nose before they have a chance to visit an in-store retail clinic or a physician for their annual flu shot, there are a multitude of options available on retail shelves to treat cold and flu symptoms. More than half (59%) of annual over-the-counter (OTC) cold flu medications were purchased between November 2016 and January 2017, according to Nielsen retail measurement sales for the 52 weeks ended Aug. 26, 2017. Dollar sales grew 7% during the 2016/2017 cold and flu season, compared to the 2015/2016 period.

When it comes to OTC cold flu medications, products with a label claim around coughing grew 11% in dollar sales compared to the prior cold/flu season while products without the claim grew only 4%. But some consumers are looking for more than functionality in their cold/flu OTC medications; they’re also paying attention to transparency claims in the OTC aisle. Though OTC cold/flu products with a natural claim only grew 2% in dollars, those free-from artificial colors and flavors grew 74% compared to the previous cold/flu season.

A Look into the Transparent OTC Cold/Flu Shopper

But exactly who is purchasing natural and free-from cold/flu medications? Compared to the average household, households with young children are the top purchasers.

Drug stores are the obvious place to shop for health and wellness needs, and they are particularly popular with Hispanic shoppers who are more likely to visit in-store retail clinics. Still, OTC medications can be found across retail channels, including warehouse clubs, dollar stores, grocery stores and supercenters. A look into which consumers are shopping across these channels can help shed light on how to best market the OTC aisles during the winter months. For example, households with five or more members spend more of their cold/flu dollars in warehouse club, dollar and supercenters than the average shopper.

Beyond Cold/Flu OTC, Americans Turn to Tea

The OTC aisle isn’t the only thing attracting shoppers who are looking to manage cold and flu symptoms. During the cold/flu season, consumers spend 28% more on herbal teas compared to the average month, with these three months making up 32% of annual dollar spend on herbal tea.

Transparency plays a role in herbal teas, as well. For example, varieties that called out specific benefits on the package gained dollars during cold/flu season. Compared to the average month, consumers spend 42% more dollars on herbal tea with an immunity claim on the label, with sales up 22% compared to the previous season. Herbal teas with a natural claim drove 29% more dollars sales compared to the average month, with dollar sales up 32%.

Whether OTC medications or herbal teas, now is the time for retailers and manufacturers to make sure these products are front and center for shoppers seeking to manage their conditions and symptoms. But more importantly, understanding the differences in what shoppers are looking for in OTC cold/flu medications and herbal tea products is imperative to drive growth during the cold winter months and help to consumers weather the season.