No Pain, Plenty To Gain

10/2/2011

OTC pain products can be important components of in-store wellness centers if the right strategies are employed.

Some 119 years ago, Wilbur F. Young and his wife, Mary Ida, developed a liniment containing natural herbal ingredients to help relieve the pain of their work horses. They named it Absorbine, and soon it became a favorite of farmers, who decided that if it could help animals with such large muscles, perhaps it could help them.

So was born Absorbine Jr. Pain Relief Liquid, which now is being promoted for the first time with that thought in mind: If it's strong enough for a horse, then it must be strong enough for me.

The product hasn't changed much over the years, and is still produced and marketed by East Longmeadow, Mass-based W.F. Young Inc., whose primary focus is on products developed for horses. While it's always had a loyal following, today's aging population is opening new opportunities, company officials say, because of the determination of many baby boomers to be as active — and healthy — as possible. And with its long history and popularity over the generations, Absorbine Jr. has a certain cachet among the older set.

“There are a lot of weekend warriors out there,” notes Robert J. Wallace, VP, sales and marketing, consumer health care products. ”They overdo it, and then realize that their muscles are not recovering like they used to. So they look for relief.”

It's that demographic, the nearly 80 million baby boomers in America born between 1946 and 1964, that many manufacturers of OTC anti-pain products are looking to as a potential gold mine in the years ahead. Supermarket operators have a great chance to ride that wave as well, manufacturers say, if they make smart decisions about category management and use effective pain relief products as an important component of in-store wellness centers. The Washington-based Consumer Healthcare Products Association (CHPA) reports that since 2007, external analgesics have generated steady annual sales of about $315 million, while internal analgesics have produced about $2.4 billion. From 2009 to 2010, internal analgesic sales dropped from $2,492 billion to $2,341 billion, according to The Nielsen Co., based in Schaumburg, I11., while external product sales increased from $305 million to $313 million.

OTC Health Care Savings

CHPA has published consultant reports suggesting that over-the-counter (OTC) medicines play a major role in helping to keep the overall cost of health care down, and that increased use would produce even larger savings. OTC anti-pain products are included in those estimates.

While sales of internal analgesics remain strong, some manufacturers of topical products are counting on another attitude that they see among many adults, including boomers: a desire to ingest fewer medications and instead treat pain and soreness at the specific bodily location.

Cutting Chemicals

“People are saying that they want to stay healthy and fit, and to do it with as few chemicals as possible,” says Lou Paradise, president and chief of research at Rhinebeck, N.Y.-based Topical BioMedics Inc., who said he developed his company's Topricin pain relief cream to alleviate his own pain resulting from injuries sustained as a Marine Corps helicopter combat rescue crew chief in Vietnam.

“There is a general feeling that people are more and more concerned with taking pills, and are looking to find alternative ways to relieve pain,” notes Steve Cagle, president of Alterna LLC, based in Whippany, N.J. “They do not want to be popping pills every day, so a topical OTC pain management product is a good alternative.” Alterna manufactures and sells Kerasal foot cream and JointFlex pain-relieving cream, among other products.

Those same two factors — an aging, but increasingly active, population, and the desire of many to avoid internal medications — have prompted San Francisco-based Absolutely New to market the ANI Headache Reliever, a band worn around the head to relieve the pressure points that contribute to headaches.

“Internal analgesics have been a mainstay on grocery shelves for generations,” observes JoAnn Deturris, VP, eastern regional sales. “But what happens to the consumer who can't take one of the hundreds of these items, due to a conflict in medications, stomach irritations or a myriad of other issues?”

Fred Miller, president of Tampa, Fla.-based Expedite Products, which makes Freeze It topical pain relief products, points out that as these active baby boomers continue to participate in strenuous activities, their muscles and joints that have been strained over the years can become sore.

As a result, his company has developed line extensions, Freeze It Extreme and Freeze It Feet, that contain a higher level of menthol and camphor, the active ingredients in the original product.

”Companies that offer different strengths of products for specific needs drive more sales for retailers,” says Miller.

Supermarket Opportunity

Paradise at Topical BioMedics believes that supermarkets have a tremendous opportunity to use anti-pain products as a key component of wellness centers, and that they can build upon the trust that they have earned from consumers over the years.

He cites Rochester, N.Y.-based Wegmans Food Markets as an example. “They are incredibly successful,” Paradise notes. “If the product does not satisfy the customer's needs, it is not there. Supermarkets need to step up their game. Wegmans has done a fabulous job of helping people understand the benefits of products that it carries.”

Paradise suggests that operators take a close look at all of the analgesic products in their shelf sets, and determine what's selling and what's gathering dust, and whether there's a need for the vast number of similar products and brand extensions that often dominate shelves.

“When the pharmacy sells our product and has samples behind the counter, it is often possible to take prescriptions for drugs out of people's lives,” he contends. “It is more profitable for the store to be selling our product rather than scripts that are astronomically expensive, because they often struggle to have any kind of profitability with scripts.”

Alterna is focusing on providing solutions for consumers with arthritis, a rapidly growing demographic. According to the Atlanta-based Arthritis Foundation, 50 million Americans — one in every five adults — have arthritis, a number expected to reach 67 million by 2030.

With older Americans wanting to stay active, products such as JointFlex have a bright future, according to Cagle. “We're clearly going for that older segment, and many supermarkets are putting a lot of focus on these OTC products. Publix has done a fantastic job. Their sections are well signed, and things are easy to find by areas of treatment. They have a good selection and are staying on top of new products.”

Supermarkets that want to increase their focus on wellness should have a pharmacist available to answer questions and help consumers make decisions, Cagle advises. He also offers some advice that many operators may not have considered: Keep the pain concerns of shoppers in mind when placing products on the shelf.

“It is often hard for older consumers to find products on the bottom shelf if they have to bend over,” he explains. “If they suffer from back pain, that can be difficult. So from a merchandising point of view, we have to think about the consumer and how they are going to be shopping if we want to maximize sales.”

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