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Sales of home health care products are steadily increasing. Aging seniors are not only living longer, they’re also living longer independently. Unlike previous generations, seniors are educating themselves about products that make life easier and safer and they have the disposable income to purchase those products.

The Consumer Healthcare Products Association, based in Washington, D.C., reports that nearly half of Americans age 65 or older are more likely to treat their own health conditions today than they were a year ago. That percentage is expected to grow, since 48 percent of seniors say they’ll opt to diagnose and treat more ailments at home rather than seeing their doctors in future.

More Out-of-pocket Sales

Changes in Medicare’s reimbursement policy are also impacting the category, with many products once provided by physicians or physical therapists no longer covered.

“Until recently, Medicare covered many items in the support device category, so the customer was getting these items for free from their doctors or physical therapists,” says Dave Beal, director of sales for the grocery channel at Prairie du Sac, Wis.-based Mueller Sports Medicine Inc. “Now that Medicare no longer covers many of the items in this category, the cost is coming out of the consumer’s pocket.” As consumers increasingly make their own choices regarding these products, they want brands they know and trust, Beal adds. They’re also price sensitive.

Jim McGuiness, VP of retail sales at Port Washington, N.Y.-based Drive Medical, says insurance reimbursement trends are leading to more cash sales for alternate channels. The supermarket channel, he notes, represents a huge opportunity for the category, particularly in mobility products, since supermarket locations are convenient for many seniors. Merchandising key daily-life aids near the pharmacy to appeal to consumers already shopping the store is an easy way for supermarket retailers to grab a bigger share of category sales.

Sales of Mobility Products Growing

For an older population, balance is a key issue, and home health care products aimed at this market have been growing. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Atlanta, estimates that one in three adults age 65 or older falls each year. Among older adults, falls are the leading cause of both fatal and nonfatal injuries, so supermarket pharmacists can play a crucial role in educating patients about products that can keep them safer.

That can be accomplished by a relatively small section. “While supermarkets aren’t going to put walkers in the store, they can put in a display of canes, cane accessories, one or two safety items, a reacher, and some kitchen products in a 2-to-3-foot section that will cover the category,” says Park Owens, president of Barrington, Ill.-based Juvo Products Inc. “Balance and mobility products are important to aging consumers, and balance, home safety and kitchen products are our three most popular segments.”

“Canes and cane safety accessories are the fastest-growing segments of the category, due to the evolution of mobility needs,” affirms Drive Medical’s McGuiness. “Supermarket chains that are committed to the category should offer the best-selling items in the bath safety products, mobility aids and lifestyle aids segments, since these are key categories as well.”

Ahold USA’s Stop & Shop and Giant Landover are two supermarket chains offering Drive Medical’s canes on merchandising vehicles. According to Owens, these types of products are a natural fit for stores that are already carrying Depends incontinence products and external analgesic rubs.

The self-treatment trend is also driving growth in the external analgesic and muscle/body support segments. Chicago-based Mintel reports that the expanding elderly population helps to explain the 39 percent spike experienced by the muscle/body support device segment between 2009 and 2014. Dollar sales of external analgesic rubs were ahead 7 percent to $506.8 million for the 52-week period ending Dec. 28, 2014, according to multioutlet data from Chicago-based IRI. Muscle/body support device dollar sales were up 8 percent to $657 million for the same period, with the supermarket channel outpacing the drug channel in this category. Sharper pricing is one reason that supermarket retailers are grabbing more share of the category.

Pricing is Key in Channel

Deven Crandall, brand manager at Performance Health, owned by Akron, Ohio-based Hygenic Corp., says that supermarkets generally carry about a third of the SKUs that stores stock, but the supermarket channel’s pricing is lower.

Mark Smith, director of sales and marketing for North Lima, Ohio-based Perfecta Products, maker of Zim’s Max-Freeze Topical Muscle and Joint Pain, adds that supermarkets are gaining share in the pain relief segment by offering value pricing.

The supermarket channel has the biggest share of ad support, outpacing even the drug channel, according to Solon, Ohio-based ECRM. Hot/cold therapy receives about 10 percent of ad support for the entire first-aid category, while muscle wraps account for about 6 percent of total ad support.

Thoughtful merchandising is also boosting the channel’s share. “Supermarkets have more merchandising flexibility to capture the consumer by combining segments such as sports medicine/elastics with localized hot and cold therapy,” Crandall says. Cincinnati-based Kroger stocks the company’s TheraPearl products in both its chronic (sports medicine) and immediate-need injury relief (first aid/external) sections.

Manufacturers say that best-in-class grocery players are devoting four feet to sections that combine supports and heat and ice packs. A well-merchandised section includes 35 to 45 items, brings all products together, and is located directly adjacent to the pharmacy.

Sports Tapes Grab More Share

While St. Paul, Minn.-based 3M owns the lion’s share of the sports tape business, smaller companies have been making inroads by adding innovation and excitement to the category.

Kinesiology tape (KT), used by professional athletes and weekend warriors for lightweight external support, is now showing up in the mass market. KY Tape is one brand that’s now in about 10,000 supermarkets, and sales of the company’s product have doubled each year.

“Sports medicine is a challenging category for supermarket retailers who have space limitations,” says John MacKay, a spokesman for the brand. “With three or four SKUs, our packaging enables us to stand out in a tired, overcrowded category.”

KT products, which retail for between $12.99 and $18.99, can be used anywhere on the body, so it takes only three SKUs to make a big statement. “The product gets attention because it’s new and different,” MacKay says. “Unlike traditional supports, which are designed for specific areas of the body, a retailer only needs a few products.” The most popular colors, according to MacKay, are black, blue, beige and pink. The company offers floorstands, as well as side-wing and counter displays. 3M’s website directs customers to its retail partners, driving store traffic and increasing category dollars.

The company is launching ProX Patches in the first quarter. “These are kinesiology tape patches that can be applied to points of pain, and are designed to be worn for multiple days,” MacKay explains. The product retails for $19.99.

Mueller’s kinesiology tapes, braces, supports, wraps and heating/cooling products are also gaining distribution in the supermarket channel. The manufacturer recently launched FasciaDerm PFTape, a product that provides therapeutic support to the foot for the treatment of plantar fasciitis heel/arch pain. The package contains seven applications, with 24 hours of relief per application.

Mueller also recently introduced Mueller Beaded Therapy, gel bead therapy packs that conform to the contours of the body and can be microwaved for heat therapy or stored in the freezer for cold therapy. The products retail for $5.99, about 50 percent lower than the comparative Therapearl product from Performance Health. Gel bead products have been a bright spot in an otherwise flat segment.

Additionally, Trenton, N.J.-based Performance Health has introduced a number of products for self-treating a wide range of health issues, including the Therapearl Ankle/Wrist Wrap, Perform Atomic Heat, Perform Foot Spray, and Cramer braces, wraps and tape.

“Supermarket chains that are committed to the category should offer the best-selling items in the bath safety products, mobility aids and lifestyle aids segments, since these are key categories.”
—Jim McGuiness, Drive Medical

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