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Aid And Comfort

To grow sales, retailers need to rethink their understanding of the first aid aisle.

Growing sales in the first aid and wound care categories may require a bit more tender loving care than many supermarkets retailers are now devoting, according to industry observers entrenched in the segment.

To be sure, while the category has been a staple component of the average supermarket's floor plan for the veritable duration, earning commensurate recognition, sales and respect of the average customer has felt a lot like a lingering ailment for many grocers, especially when compared with the impressive category performance achieved by other channels.

“Generally, the market over the past year has been flat for the category in supermarkets,“ admits Ann Rasure, VP of marketing for Mundelein, Ill.-based Medline Industries, the maker of Curad brand products. “The category overall was up slightly, but supermarkets were flat across the category and down slightly on bandages.” Rasure did see some pockets of growth for the grocery channel, however, particularly among value and private label products.

Supermarket operators have been turning more attention to the first aid category by adding a little more space and a greater range and assortment of products, but the increase has been slow. “We continue to see increased interest in the category from the grocery segment,” adds Jason Cartwright, CEO of Littleton, N.H.-based Tender Corp. The slow growth in the category in general has dampened retailers' excitement about greatly increasing the amount of space to offer in first aid. “If [supermarkets] identify growth in this area, they will go after the category with more enthusiasm,” adds Cartwright.

Since most supermarkets don't have the same amount of shelf space to dedicate to the first aid category as their drug chain and mass retail competitors have, grocery operators must be more judicious in allocating that space, making sure that they include not just the basics, but also those products in demand by consumers.

“If you aren't seeing the same level of turns in the traditional items, you have to make assortment judgments concerning those items, to keep the space fresh,” notes Rasure. “One of the things we've tried to tell supermarkets is that a healthy part of the category is in wound care.”

According to a recently released study by San Jose, Calif-based Global Industries Analysts Inc, the wound care segment is growing rapidly, spurred by a more active lifestyle among many Americans, and an aging population that's experiencing more cases of diabetes and obesity (both conditions make wounds harder to treat). The study predicts that this segment of the first aid category will reach more than $20 billion globally by 2015.

Smaller-footprint Products

Product footprint is especially important to supermarket operators when choosing an assortment in the category. With limited space available on the shelves, retailers are looking for products that can save them more of that valuable real estate. “One of the things that's been happening with some retailers, such as Stop & Shop and Walmart, is that they have been asking for products that have a smaller footprint,” says Steven Mosler, partner in Wantagh, N.Y.-based First Aid Research. To that end, First Aid Research has taken its Bacitraycin Plus product, which had a 5-inch footprint, and re-engineered the package to make it more vertical, giving the newly packaged product a 2-inch footprint on the shelf. “A buyer may not have 5 inches available, but may find 2 inches of space,” explains Mosler. Walmart has also re-engineered many of its private label first aid products to be more vertical and take up less space.

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