The allergy season kicks in this month, prompting many supermarkets to highlight items in their ad slicks.
But retailers have discovered spring isn't the only time to feature these products. The allergy category has become a year-round business, with sneezing, red and itchy-eyed customers spotted in the health and beauty care aisles in mid-winter as well, said retailers.
"We promote allergy products all year, not just in spring and fall," said Bill West, director of nonfood at Seaway Food Town, Maumee, Ohio.
"Even during winter, people routinely use allergy remedies, and some take medications on a daily basis," noted Carol Isacson, director of nonfood at Plumb's, Muskegon, Mich.
Ron Dubuc, manager of drug and general merchandise at Harold Friedman Inc., Butler, Pa., pointed to "crazy" weather as a cause for the consistency in allergy product sales.
"Allergy sales are steady year-round. Products are selling well even during the colder winter weather. You no longer have the typical peaks in fall and spring," he said.
Chuck Witt, director of general merchandise and HBC at Certified Grocers Midwest, Hodgkins, Ill., agreed. "Weather changes drive sales, and as the seasons change the molds begin and the pollens come," he said.
The allergy selection at Certified stores consists of about 42 stockkeeping units, and has grown 25% in the past two years.
Consistent allergy remedy sales have provided good growth in the segment for chains interviewed by SN.
Allergy product sales represent about 14.7% of the $593.8 million generated in the cough and cold category at supermarkets, according to figures provided by ACNielsen, Schaumburg, Ill., for the year ended Dec. 9, 1995. During that period, allergy product sales rose 7% to $87 million.
West of Seaway described allergy product sales as "great." At Seaway, allergy products are merchandised separately from cough and cold items in an 8-foot set near the pharmacy. The section also includes a children's subcategory.
"Our allergy medicines have really expanded for us," said Dubuc of Harold Friedman. Over a two-year period, space was increased 25%. About 24 allergy products make up the segment. Allergy products are now merchandised in 4 to 8 linear feet separated from cough and cold remedies.
According to Dubuc, Tylenol is the top-selling brand in the segment, and Benadryl and private label both rank close seconds for the retailer.
At Plumb's, allergy remedy sales are described as "pretty good," and doing better than in 1994. The retailer sets allergy items by type separately from cough, cold and flu remedies despite a distributor's suggestion to group all allergy products by brand, said Isacson.
However, Dierbergs Markets, Chesterfield, Mo., and Genuardi's Family Markets, Norristown, Pa., both opted for brand sets for their allergy products. Dierbergs merchandises allergy items by brand within the cough and cold department in 8 feet of space.
"It's faster to find an item on a wall of goods with, for example, all Tylenol allergy items together," said Jim Denny, nonfood buyer.
Genuardi's uses a brand set, but like most other chains separates allergy remedies, positioning them next to cough and cold lines.
According to Mike Kilgallon, category manager of HBC at Genuardi's, there are 25 to 30 allergy items merchandised within 4 feet of space.
Over the last three years the allergy segment exploded with new brands and line extensions, many of which are formulated for specific symptoms. Although the rate of new introductions has slowed, many retailers believe there are too many products on the market.
"Too many products makes it hard to manage and confuses customers," said Plumb's Isacson, who mentioned Dye-free Benadryl as the latest introduction.
West of Seaway also said the segment is overcrowded, making it difficult to manage.
But retailers all agreed that stores with a pharmacist on duty can solve a lot of the consumer confusion that arises with a plethora of products.
"Pharmacy is important in providing advice about these products," said Kilgallon of Genuardi's.
Within the segment, retailers said private label is doing well.
At Plum's, Major Pharmaceuticals is the retailer's store brand. "It does real well in allergy," said Isacson. Leading brands are Benadryl, Sudafed and Tylenol.