Supermarkets' health and beauty care and pharmacy departments acted quickly as three products formerly sold only by prescription, Rogaine, Nicorette and Zantac 75, all debuted over the counter this month.
Though sales will go to HBC, pharmacists said the most recent prescription-to-OTC switches will benefit their departments as well.
"If handled correctly, I see it as a plus for pharmacies," said Doug Berry, pharmacy director at Waldbaum's, Central Islip, N.Y., a division of A&P, Montvale, N.J. "These products are giving us an opportunity to counsel, which helps build trust. If we succeed at that, it increases the chances that consumers will come back to us to get prescriptions filled."
Prescription-to-OTC switches have been quick to arrive on supermarket shelves over the last year. And the past two months have been no exception, with Femstat 3, a three-day yeast infection treatment from Procter & Gamble, Cincinnati, hitting shelves March 22.
Following on the heels of Femstat 3 came Rogaine, a 2% minoxidil hair regrowth treatment by Pharmacia & Upjohn, Kalamazoo, Mich., which arrived April 3, and Nicorette, a nicotine replacement therapy gum, by SmithKline Beecham Consumer Healthcare, Pittsburgh, April 18.
Rogaine and Nicorette are the first products of their kind and are likely to create new categories for supermarkets,
while Femstat 3 is the only nonprescription three-day treatment.
Merchandising strategies for the three most recent switch products vary. Some chains are selling Rogaine and Nicorette only in the pharmacy, while others are displaying them in both sections.
The majority have placed Femstat 3 in HBC. But, concerned about theft, some are keeping it behind pharmacy counters. Whether they're located in pharmacy or HBC, the prescription-to-OTC products are expected to positively affect pharmacies, SN was told.
"They're offering pharmacists an opportunity to be a link in the health care system," said Jane Siebert, director of pharmacy operations at Dillon Food Stores, Hutchinson, Kan.
Rogaine is being marketed in two different packages, one for men and another for women. Suggested retail is $29.50, about half the cost of the former prescription price. A twin-pack sells for $55; triple-pack, $75. The four new Progaine SKUs sell at a suggested retail of $3.99.
Dillon Foods plans to carry the Rogaine double-pack at the pharmacy and the single size in HBC, according to Siebert.
"I think consumers will first try the smaller size, then once they get used to it, they'll go for the multipack," she said.
Many chains are displaying Nicorette at the pharmacy counter as well. Waldbaum's, for instance, recently ran an ad that read, "Nicorette, the First Rx to OTC Stop Smoking Aid. Available in Pharmacy Stores Only."
Nicorette is available in 2-mg (for smokers of 24 or fewer cigarettes a day) and 4-mg (25 or more cigarettes) strengths. A starter kit features 108 pieces, which is about a two-week supply. A 48-piece refill, or one-week therapy, is also available. Suggested retail for the starter kit is $50; refills, $30. Recommended length of therapy is 12 weeks. Since gaining prescription status in the United States 12 years ago, 31 million prescriptions have been filled, according to SmithKline Beecham.
All three products are being supported by large advertising and promotional programs. Procter & Gamble reportedly is backing Femstat 3 with a $25 million print and television advertising campaign.
Pharmacia & Upjohn reportedly is spending $75 million to advertise and promote Rogaine over the next six months. Support includes a Rogaine pharmacy kit that contains an educational brochure and video for pharmacists, a consumer education brochure and an announcement easel for the pharmacy counter. Supermarket retailers said this kind of support will help the products' performance. But some said the higher price points, especially of Nicorette and Rogaine, may hamper sales.
Rogaine also could be affected by its lengthy treatment, said Karen Blakey, general merchandise buyer at Spartan Stores, Grand Rapids, Mich.
"It takes four months to start working and then it has to be used every day or else its effects are lost," said Blakey. "It breaks down to costing about $1 a day. But you're talking a dollar a day for life."