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Hurt So Good


As the population ages and rates of osteoarthritis, diabetes, obesity and osteoporosis rise, consumers self-treating conditions at home are driving retail sales of home health care products and natural pain relievers.

National Institutes of Health (NIH) research estimates that 25.3 million U.S. adults, or 11.2 percent, say they’ve had pain every day for the previous three months. NIH’s study also found that even more people — 17.6 percent of American adults — suffer from “severe levels” of pain.

According to Sue Kiner, a spokeswoman for Fort Lauderdale, Fla.-based Larasan, maker of natural pain reliever Flex 24, pain relief falls into three categories: achievement pain, which is the result of “weekend warrior” or professional-athlete injuries; episodic pain that results from overexertion or an injury; and chronic pain.

“Chronic pain goes hand in hand with the aging of America,” says Dave Beal, director of sales for the grocery channel at Prairie du Sac, Wis.-based Mueller Sports Medicine. “Studies show that an aging population and patient preference for noninvasive treatment options are driving sales of orthopedic braces and supports (orthotics).”

Beal notes that the brace and support category is dominated by knee braces, but sales of upper-extremity braces are expected to outpace category growth. Mueller also recently introduced FasciaDerm, a product for plantar fasciitis, which Beal describes as “a growing condition among the general population which affects all ages, fitness levels, and both men and women.”

Sales of Mueller braces/supports grew 13 percent in the supermarket channel last year. 3M’s Futuro brand is the category leader, with 43 percent of category dollar sales, but the St. Paul, Minn.-based brand has seen increased competition from Mueller, Idea Village’s Copper Fit brand and Lumos Inc.’s KT Tape. The use of kinesthetic tape has continued to grow among sports enthusiasts, and retailers have carved out sections of the brace/wrap set for these products.

TENS Therapy Takes Off

The popularity of transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) devices, is also growing in the mass market. The products come with a therapeutic pedigree, since they’ve been prescribed by doctors for years as an effective way to reduce and, in some cases, eliminate pain. The devices work by sending tiny electrical signals through the skin to intercept pain signals from reaching the brain and help to release endorphins, the body’s own natural pain-fighting chemical.

The availability of these devices in mass-market channels makes the therapy accessible at a fraction of the cost to consumers who would previously have had to visit a physician or physical therapist to get it.

“The 2014 launch of Icy Hot SmartRelief jump-started a very small market, and quickly grew the $10 million market more than five times in just eight months,” says Scott Seiffert, senior manager of topical innovation at Bridgewater, NJ.-based Sanofi US. “The TENS category continues double-digit growth, and Icy Hot SmartRelief has made a considerable investment in media to drive awareness and educate consumers.”

Sales of electrotherapy devices were up nearly 38 percent in the supermarket channel for the 52 weeks ending Dec. 27, 2015, according to Chicago-based Information Resources Inc. (IRI), a gain that outpaced other channels. While the channel accounts for only 7 percent of multioutlet sales of these devices, supermarket retailers are stepping up their offerings as more consumers show interest in the items.

Chattem’s Icy Hot SmartRelief remains the category leader, with more than 90 percent of market share, but other brands, such as Omron and Accurelief, have gained traction. Last year, Icy Hot SmartRelief launched a knee and shoulder line extension product and added a hip pain relief indication to its back product line. “We are planning on a strong pipeline of innovation to follow in the future,” notes Seiffert.

He adds that couponing has been successful in bringing new users to a category that has price points in the $30 price range. “We’ve seen average redemptions on coupon values that range from $3 up to $7, but consider it just one of our tools to help drive trial,” says Seiffert. “When strong retailer merchandising occurs around our national coupon drops, we see significant sales increases. In-store feature and display during these periods as well as others, such as holiday displays, have also been strong trial drivers for us.”

Topical Pain Relief Strong

Pain-relief transdermal patches and topical creams and ointments are resonating with consumers looking for alternatives to traditional oral analgesics, and have given a lift to the external-analgesic category. External-analgesic products are one of the top five OTC growth categories in 2015, according to the Washington, D.C.-based Consumer Healthcare Products Association.

Dollar sales in the topical-analgesic category were up 9 percent in supermarkets for the 52 weeks ending Dec. 27, 2015, according to IRI. Icy Hot remains the category leader, but sales of the brand were only ahead 2 percent, while Chattem’s Aspercreme brand experienced a 31 percent spike in sales. In a competitive category, Salonpas, Arnicare, Australian Dream and Blue Emu also registered double-digit dollar sales gains.

“Blue Emu’s success typifies the recent uptick in sales of herbal/traditional topical analgesics,” said a recent report from London-based market research firm Euromonitor. The competitive category should see a number of new introductions this year. “We’re projecting more strong results, with two exciting launches this year,” affirms Sanof’s Seiffert.

Larasan is expanding distribution of its Flex24 SportsPatch Topical Analgesic Pain Patch, roll-on Pain Pen and Performance Tape, the first kinesthetic tape to feature a topical analgesic. The transdermal pain relievers, designed for moderate to severe muscle and joint aches, feature natural pain relievers and are advertised as offering 24-hour relief.

Consumers’ desire for alternatives to systemic products is also driving sales of heat and ice packs and massagers. “There’s a growing demand for natural, safe and convenient pain relief options,” says Jenny McLaughlin, product manager for Sterling, Ill.-based Wahl Therapeutic Massagers. In October, Wahl introduced a Pulsing Massage Patch, the first wearable massage device. “Our massage patch is an all-natural patch producing vibration waves to stimulate blood flow to the area of pain,” explains McLaughlin.

Earlier last year, the company introduced three new hot/cold gel packs to its pain management line: the Ceramic & Gel Pack Hot/Cold Spot Therapy, the Hot/Cold Massage Spot Therapy Vibrating Gel Pack, and the XL Hot/Cold Pack Oversized Therapeutic Gel Pack. Each offers the benefits of temperature therapy by providing heat to increase circulation and promote healing of sore muscles, as well as cold therapy to restrict blood flow and reduce swelling and inflammation.

Supplements Part of Category

Research from Chicago-based Mintel finds that consumers are showing more interest in internal analgesics made with natural ingredients.

Curcumin, the active ingredient in turmeric that gives the spice its distinctive yellow-orange color, has emerged as the hottest supplement in the natural pain relief category. EuroPharma’s Terry Naturally, currently sold only in the natural product channel, is one of the most popular new products on the market. Paula Berken, a spokeswoman for Green Bay, Wis.-based EuroPharma, notes that while a significant number of studies point to the effectiveness of curcumin for a number of conditions, consumers often misunderstand the difference between turmeric and curcumin, so education at the point of sale remains important for these products.

Sales of supplements for joint health also continue to grow, although at a slower pace over the past few years. According to a recent study from Osteo Bi-Flex, a brand of Ronkonkoma, N.Y.-based NBTY Inc., 38 percent of consumers come into the joint health supplement category because a doctor recommends it to them, 23 percent have occasional joint concerns that they want to address and are seeking a variety of approaches, and another 21 percent act on the basis of positive word of mouth from friends and family.

“Chronic pain goes hand in hand with the aging of America.”
—Dave Beal, Mueller Sports Medicine

“When strong retailer merchandising occurs around our national coupon drops, we see significant sales increases. In-store feature and display during these periods as well as others, such as holiday displays, have also been strong trial drivers for us.”
—Scott Seiffert, Sanofi US

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