A Chance To Breathe Easier

2/1/2011

In the wake of doubts about mainstream products, retailers may be able capture cautious consumers' dollars with natural offerings.

The Food and Drug Administration's recent consideration of strict regulations on the sale and distribution of over-the-counter products containing the cough suppressive dextromethorphan, as a measure to reduce abuse among teens, has led an increasing number of shoppers — as well as the retailers that serve them — to rethink their own reliance on such medications.

In turn, concerned shoppers are gravitating toward items containing natural ingredients, including those in the nasal spray segment, which now boasts a range of all-natural options.

Unsurprisingly, these options are most conspicuously available at natural food stores. "Natural nasal sprays are important to our shoppers as they seek alternatives to commercial brands, with expressed concerns as to safety, especially the cumulative effect of commercial products to their health," says Marc Houslanger, VP and CFO at Scarsdale, N.Y.-based Mrs. Greens Natural Markets, which operates 12 stores in upstate New York and Connecticut. "Our natural products are often bought to relieve both children and the elderly, so safe effectiveness is important."

Continues Houslanger: "We promote all products through our informed and motivated staff. Specifically, our supplement managers are trained in ongoing seminars provided through Mrs. Greens so they may pass on to our shoppers and employees information about each product. We offer everyday discounts and prominent display locations to encourage our customers to purchase the products we believe are effective."

Houslanger adds that sales of natural decongestants at the chain's stores have increased over the past year, perhaps because of consumer worries over outbreaks like H1 N1, as well as health insurance coverage changes and an ailing economy, both of which may have spurred more shoppers to seek alternatives to sometimes pricey prescription meds.

"No question, consumers are looking for nasal sprays that are effective in treating their ailments: allergies, congestion, stuffy nose, dry nasal passages, sinus pain or pressure,"notes Jay. A Betz, president and CEO of Tulsa, Okla.-based TriCord Pharmaceuticals, the maker of Oasis Nasal products, which are made with mineral-rich Dead Sea salt. "That said, industry researchers, along with our own direct research, say consumers want all-natural solutions. Beyond the growing trend toward natural products overall, in the nasal spray and wash categories, consumers are looking for natural solutions that can eliminate risks of overmedication, potential for negative interaction with other prescription or OTC medication, and risks of addiction, known to be present in some OTC decongestants."

Other brands in the segment have also been the recipients of increased interest at retail. "We've had a steady increase in distribution since launch and are now in 20-plus retailers in three states,"says Nanci Schwartz, spokeswoman for Lady Lake, Fla.-based Lor-Ed Enterprises LLC, the maker of Dr. Neuzil's Irrigator. "We attribute it to the fact that Dr. Neuzil's Irrigator was developed by someone with extensive experience in this field, and that the product has a specific purpose — it's meant to rinse the nose of irritants that cause discomfort while moisturizing and protecting nasal passages."

To ascertain how well the product worked, the company says it "conducted a survey of patient preferences of common nasal therapies vs. Dr. Neuzil's Irrigator," recounts Schwartz. "The participants overwhelmingly prefer our nasal cleansing spray because of its effectiveness and ease of use. We shared the results recently at a trade show and generated a lot of interest in stocking our product." The item has since been picked up by two national distributors, with whom Lor-Ed is working to create promotion plans to attract both retailers and consumers, she adds.

Still, despite such gains, the economy has had an adverse impact on this segment, as it has on so many others. "Sales did not decline between 2009 and 2010, but stayed flat as the economic landscape was no better, advertising budgets stayed slim and retail buyers sat on the fence, deleting more items than they were taking new ones in," admitted Christian de Rivel, SVP sales and marketing at Camarillo, Calif-based Green Pharmaceuticals, the maker of homeopathic NasoClear and SnoreStop remedies, which are carried in such well-known food retailers as Meijer, Winn-Dixie, A&P banner stores, Wegmans and Save Mart.

A clever promotion by natural nasal spray manufacturer Dynova Laboratories, maker of Buster Brands products, "Send Us Your Nasal Spray," which bowed this past November, invites consumers to swap their old medicines for Buster products.

The Morristown, NJ.-based company will send a free bottle of Sinus Buster or Allergy Buster when consumers send in their current nasal sprays — even covering the cost of shipping and handling. Campaign details and restrictions are available on the entry form at the Buster Brands website and the Sinus Buster Facebook Page, the latter of which also features a $2-off coupon.

"Even though consumers often fall into the habit of using the same old medicines, we at Buster Brands are confident that after trying Sinus Buster or Allergy Buster, those consumers will be part of the Buster Nation for life,"asserts the manufacturer's VP of digital marketing, Jake Van Naarden. Buster Brands'products are sold at nearly 30,000 food and drug stores across the United States, among them Shop Rite, Meijer, Hannaford, Price Chopper, Wegmans, A&P/Pathmark and Giant Food.

"We've been encouraged by the response so far," the company says of the promotion. "Many consumers are actively seeking out new alternatives to the older generation of medicines, which have many shortcomings," among I possible addiction after prolonged use, and "rebound congestion," as Dynova VP marketing and sales Jeff Vernimb explains.

According to Vernimb, the brand's products have "seen a dramatic increase in volume as a result of a multimillion-dollar national advertising and promotion campaign," which stresses that the medications begin working "in under one minute"and provides high-value coupons via mass-reach free-standing inserts. Offerings include Sinus Buster, Allergy Buster and Cold Buster.

When it comes to growing its brand at retail,"TriCord Pharmaceuticals is excited about the opportunities presented by the future of this segment at all levels, including new products, product line extensions, packaging and technological advancements," observes Betz. "We believe there are significant opportunities to address the wants and needs of both the end consumer and the medical professional, and look forward to playing a key role in that regard."

He believes the trend for natural medications will continue to gain momentum. Scientific validation of the efficacy of these products — as Betz and other brand reps contacted for this article note is the case with their respective companies'offerings — "coupled with a shift by the established medical community in the protocol used to treat certain ailments and related symptoms such as allergies and upper respiratory illnesses, will only enhance sales in the coming years," according to Betz.

Dynova's Vernimb concurs, noting that his company also "plans to significantly expand its portfolio. As a delivery form, nasal sprays provide fast absorption," he adds. "This represents a key consumer benefit and point of difference."

But Do They Work?

Consumers may feel better about using nasal sprays with natural ingredients, but how well do they really work? Manufacturers of such products are at pains to present scientific proof of their efficacy.

"[0]ur products have been scientifically proven by well-recognized medical professionals to be highly effective in treating and preventing the ailments consumers complain of most," says Jay. A Betz, president and CEO of Tulsa, Okla.-based TriCord Pharmaceuticals, which makes Oasis Nasal products. The company's website includes a "For Physicians" section citing studies by the Mayo Clinic, among other prestigious names, to support the use of Dead Sea salt in Oasis products.

Camarillo, Calif.-based Green Pharmaceuticals, the maker of homeopathic remedies NasoClear and SnoreStop, cites on its website the results of a 1999 study published in the journal Sleep and Breathing, in which SnoreStop performed well.

"As a formula with clinically proven efficacy, Sinus Buster is a safe, all-natural alternative to medicated sprays," observes Jeff Vernimb, VP marketing and sales at Morristown, NJ.-based Dynova Laboratories, the maker of the Buster Brands product line. Dynova "recently completed a placebo-controlled, double-blind study at the University of Cincinnati Medical and Research Center," adds Vernimb. "The study results demonstrate that Sinus Buster is a powerful solution for sinus congestion, pressure and headaches."

The tack taken by Lady Lake, Fla.-based Lor-Ed Enterprises LLC, the manufacturer of herbal-enhanced nasal cleansing spray Dr. Neuzil's Irrigator, is to point out that its creator is a medical professional in a pertinent field: Ed Neuzil is a Ph.D.-and board-certified nurse practitioner who has specialized in allergy, asthma and sinus problems for more than 11 years.

Beyond the products featured in this article, a double-blind crossover study published in 2009 by Washington-based pharmaceutical company Strategic Biosciences and the Institute for Asthma and Allergy in Wheaton, Md., found that homeopathic nasal sprays containing capsicum, an active component derived from the fruit of the cayenne pepper plant, are effective at relieving symptoms of allergic rhinitis.

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