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Over-the-Counter Allergy Medicines Get a Slow Start As Pollen Season Begins Across the U.S.

FMCG and Retail | 09-14-2018

In many parts of the U.S. the fall allergy season has arrived—and with a vengeance in some cities. Levels of pollen, ragweed and mold in the air have been on the rise in recent weeks, with pollen counts reportedly nearly twice as high as usual in places like Chicago. Wide swings in temperatures, wet weather and carbon dioxide levels are all contributing factors known to affect and elevate regional pollen levels.    

Despite the annual arrival of common allergens, over-the-counter allergy medications have not experienced a corresponding lift in sales this season. In fact, sales have declined slightly. According to Nielsen’s Friday morning data for the week ended Sep. 8, 2018, sales of over-the-counter allergy medication reached $52 million, a figure that’s down nearly 9% compared to the same time last year. In fact, across the last four weeks, sales of the allergy category are down an average of 3%.

On an annual basis, sales of allergy medication have also fallen versus last year. But it’s interesting to note that dollar sales for the 12 months ended Aug. 25, 2018, are comparatively higher than the same annual periods in 2015 and 2016. So while consumers spent more on allergy relief medications in 2017, the elevated levels of allergens in the air this year may indicate that a later seasonal spike is still yet to come.

Consumers Find Relief in Name Brand Medications

Across the fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) industry, store brands or private-label products have continued to outpace the growth of brands, up 5% in dollar sales compared to brands (which are relatively flat at just 1% year-over-year). Yet, in the allergy category, the story is quite the opposite. When it comes to the relief of their allergy symptoms, consumers are turning to the name brands they know and trust. 

Branded over-the-counter allergy medications comprise 63% of sales and are up nearly 2%, while store-branded alternatives are down 5% compared to last year. Branded growth is largely inflationary, as unit volume has contracted by a little less than 1%. But this still puts brands ahead, as slowed consumption growth has been felt across private label allergy medications as well, with unit volume sales of store branded products also declining by slightly more than 1%.   

As we move further into the fall allergy season, sales of over-the-counter allergy medication will likely increase as consumers seek to alleviate the worst of their symptoms. And name brand medications will be well positioned to provide consumers with the seasonal relief they need. We’ll stay tuned to the weekly data for over-the-counter allergy medication as the weather cools and leaves begin to fall.

Some insights from this article were fueled by Nielsen Friday morning data delivery, the earliest FMCG market read available. Learn more about Friday morning data delivery.

*Friday morning data represents all Nielsen-measured channels excluding convenience.

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