Skip to main content

No-Pain Gains


Last month, the U.S Preventive Services Task Force recommended that men and women age 50 to 69 who are at increased risk of cardiovascular disease should take aspirin to prevent heart attack and stroke. The Rockville, Md.-based group also suggested that aspirin may be useful in preventing colorectal cancer in some patient groups. Almost immediately, a medical debate followed about the efficacy of a low-dose aspirin regimen, leaving consumers even more confused about analgesics.

A recent report from the American College of Preventive Medicine, in Washington, D.C., revealed that in any given week, about 20 percent of American consumers will use an OTC pain reliever. Increased product segmentation and proliferation, as well as conflicting information about which products to use, can leave consumers scratching their heads in the analgesic aisle. “The category is getting more confusing, with so many evolving solutions,” admits Katie McNichol, principal of client insights at Chicago-based market research company Information Resources Inc. (IRI). “With so many specialized products on the market, it may be time to focus on education.”

Fort Washington, Pa.-based McNeil Consumer Healthcare, a division of Johnson & Johnson, is using Tylenol shelf talkers to help educate consumers about the differences between pain relievers by directing them to the brand’s website. It’s a key move as the brand tries to recover from plant shutdowns that sidelined the brand and Novartis’ Excedrin last year.

Dollar sales for McNeil brands are up 18 percent for all three outlets, while Novartis brands show a 16 percent gain, according to IRI. Bayer and Pfizer dominate the branded market, with about a 20 percent share each of the internal-analgesic market.

Private Label

“There’s a set of core consumers who are loyal to their brands, but we have seen private label grow in the last eight to 10 years due to the economy, and especially last year when Tylenol and Excedrin were off the market,” notes McNichol. “Once they give private label a try and realize it’s effective, they will migrate to private label and stay there.”

Private label accounts for nearly 40 percent of the overall internal-analgesics class across all outlets, according IRI data for the 52 weeks ending Aug. 9, down about 1 percent from the previous year. The private label sales decrease is likely due in part to the market return of Tylenol and Excedrin SKUs, says Laura Mahecha, industry manager, healthcare at Parsippany, N.J.-based Kline.

What Price Analgesics?

Price incentives are effective at moving consumers back to brands. “Price is very important in the category and can become even more of an issue for patients who are chronic users,” observes McNichol. “They’ll do the math and shop price per volume.” In the analgesic aisle, supermarket chains are playing the price game, and sale and low-price shelf talkers dominate the aisles in many chains. Specialized products are one way to keep prices higher in the category, but there’s been little innovation in the segment.

Sleeping Easier

Analgesics with sleep aids are performing well. According to the Bethesda, Md.-based National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, about 40 million people in the United States suffer from chronic long-term sleep disorders, and an additional 20 million people experience occasional sleep problems. It’s no surprise that Advil PM, Aleve PM and Tylenol PM all rank among the top 20 best-selling internal analgesics, according to IRI data.

“Analgesics with sleep aids are growing at 30 percent, well above overall category growth,” affirms McNichol. “The most recent uptrend is linked to … Aleve PM, which was launched a year ago, and the return of Tylenol PM.”

Emerging Trends

Future growth in the category is likely to come from easy-to-consume formats. A recent report from Chicago-based Mintel notes that individually packaged, portable, fast-acting and easy-to-use-without-water formulations resonate with young and old consumers. “This type of innovation could provide an edge to top internal-analgesic brands and increase brand sales,” the report adds.

Additionally, as the Mintel report observes, “There is growing interest in analgesics with natural ingredients, supported by the 84 percent of consumers who express interest in buying these products.” More than two-thirds of consumers in that study said they were interested in vitamins to treat pain.

“Consumers worry that by taking one product to treat one condition they may be causing another problem,” notes McNichol. “Consumers with chronic pain are very willing to try new things and are taking a toolkit approach to treating their pain.”

Driven by an aging population of consumers as well as younger users who use the products for muscle pain after exercising dollar sales of topical analgesics are up by more than 6 percent to nearly $527 million across all three outlets according to IRI. Brands such as NFI Consumer Products’ Blue Emu and Australian Dream have seen dollar sales leap by around 30 percent and Boiron’s Arnicare and Hisamitsu’s Salonpas have also experienced double-digit increases. Meanwhile private label analgesic rubs are down nearly 4 percent IRI finds.

“We’ve seen increased interest in Icy Hot patches with TENS technology that are priced over $50 and provide external relief with electronic TENS stimulation,” says Mahecha. For her part McNichol warns that the external-analgesic category has seen a number or products with great starts flame out after a year on the market.

A new crop of products containing Arnica montana is gaining attention. “Arnicare has been a breakout product in a category that’s been dominated by products that have active ingredients with a strong odor, and many consumers are looking for products that are effective, but have less smell associated with their use,” asserts Gary Wittenberg, VP of national accounts for Newtown Square, Pa.-based Boiron USA. “The product also fills a niche for a topical pain reliever that has natural ingredients and a safe profile.” Boiron also markets arnica products for internal use.

Other natural product brands are also showing strong sales. Dollar sales of Hylands internal-analgesic tablets, also made from arnica, show double-digit dollar gains in a category that overall has experienced a 5 percent increase, according to IRI data.

Best of Both Worlds

Retailers are merchandising herbal internal- and external-pain remedies with traditional products. For example Salisbury N.C.-based Food Lion merchandises Boiron’s Arnicare with other topical analgesics. Boiron is transitioning from vertical merchandising to a horizontal box. “It’s a more eyecatching shelf presence especially when the products are double-faced by stacking two on top of one another,” explains Wittenberg. “It helps the consumer find the products after they’ve heard about them.”

He adds that shoppers are increasingly looking to natural products as a first defense against pain. “I think consumers understand the importance of addressing pain quickly and effectively and many are more likely to try a natural homeopathic remedy before turning to a traditional analgesic ” observes Wittenberg. “These products have been available in natural product stores in the U.S. but more recently mainstream outlets have started offering [them].” Women seniors and Hispanic consumers are most likely to use these types of products he notes.

“Consumers are increasingly willing to try natural products to complement traditional OTC medications,” agrees McNichol. “That’s where education can help. The industry could be giving consumers a solution set. When consumers have a better knowledge of safe concomitant use it can also drive sales.” Accordingly manufacturers and retailers are working together to better understand cross-purchasing in the category and how products can be bundled for promotion.

“Many [consumers] are more likely to try a natural, homeopathic remedy before turning to a traditional analgesic.”
—Gary Wittenberg, Boiron USA

This ad will auto-close in 10 seconds