Supermarket pharmacists are making more recommendations of cough, cold, allergy and flu products than they used to. These recommendations are also more likely to include store brands.
These were some of the findings of a national survey conducted by Supermarket Pharmacy on cough, cold, allergy and flu products recommended by supermarket pharmacists. This is the second-annual study covering these product categories, allowing for comparison with last year's results. Two more survey installments covering other over-the-counter categories are planned for later this year.
A questionnaire was mailed to 800 pharmacists working in food stores, with 116 surveys returned for a 15% response rate. More than half (51%) of respondents were pharmacy managers, with the balance split between chief pharmacists and staff pharmacists.
Pharmacists' advice was sought most frequently for cough syrup, an average of 18.3 requests per week, compared with 14.9 requests per week in the previous survey, published a year ago. Recommendations for allergy liquid increased significantly in the last year, to 17.1 times from 10.
Pharmacists also were frequently asked about pediatric remedies, 17 times a week for cold products, and 16.5 times a week for cough products. These were both up significantly from last year's 11.8 and 11.4 times respectively.
The branded product that showed the most growth overall was, not surprisingly, Tavist, a relatively recent prescription-to-over-the-counter switch. Recommendations increased 12.6% to garner 31.5% of all allergy tablet-capsule recommendations.
Other brands that had strong gains were: Tylenol, up 11.9% among cold tablets-capsules; Afrin, a nasal topical decongestant, up 9.9%; Advil Cold and Sinus, a sinus remedy, up 9.8%; Comtrex, a cold multisymptom remedy, up 9.3%; and PediCare, a pediatric cold remedy, up 8.2%.
Pharmacists continue to prefer to recommend single-ingredient products as opposed to those that treat multisymptoms.
"Generally, I do not like to recommend multisymptom products, but rather single component products to treat specific symptoms," wrote one pharmacist. "I recommend several different products, each depending on the symptoms stated. I do not like to recommend [multi-ingredient] products because I feel that each ingredient should be used to treat individual symptoms," agreed a pharmacy manager.
Pharmacists indicate that customers act on their recommendations. "Most of my recommendations are followed by the customer purchasing the item I recommend," wrote one pharmacist.
Increasingly, though, pharmacists are recommending store brands to help their customers save money. Store brands gained in eight categories in this year's survey, making the biggest gains in the nasal oral decongestant, long-acting cold remedy and cold liquid categories.
Recommendations for store brands, however, were nonexistent for pediatric products and for flu symptom remedies, a relatively new category. Store-brand recommendations also lost ground in cough syrup, nasal topical decongestant and cold multisymptom remedy.
Comments penned on the questionnaires reflected the increasing customer -- and pharmacist -- acceptance of store brands.
"Generic products are becoming more and more popular as people realize the cost difference and trust [our] products over brand-name," wrote one pharmacist.
"I strongly recommend less-expensive alternatives (store brands) to brand names, whenever available," wrote a chief pharmacist, "based on profit margin and general acceptance of generics."
However, the limits of store-brand acceptance were evident from other comments, including: "Store brand items are requested but many people (over half) still prefer name-brand items that they know have worked in the past. This is especially true for children's medication."
The pharmacist's advice was sought frequently for other cold, allergy and flu treatment recommendations, reflecting the prevalence of these conditions as well as the potential for confusion in this market.
Pharmacists said they recommended a nasal oral decongestant 14.7 times a week; cold liquid, 14.6 times; multisymptom remedy, 14.4 times; long-acting cold remedy, 13.7 times; nasal topical decongestant, 13.4 times; cold tablets-capsules, 12.4 times; sinus remedy, 11.4 times, and sore throat spray, 10.9 times. Even flu symptom remedy, recommended least often at nine times a week, exceeded last year's flu symptom remedy recommendations of 7.6 times, as well as most other OTC categories.
Supermarkets are allocating more space to cough, cold, allergy and flu products, the survey found. About 59% of respondents increased their shelf space devoted to these products, while 37% said space remained the same. Only 4% noted a decrease. However, many pharmacists said they are unhappy with the proliferation of products in these categories. "We have only so much space on our shelves for OTCs," wrote one pharmacy manager. "The category has exploded with new products, including Rx-to-OTC switch products. Space has stayed the same but the number of facings has been cut to accommodate the influx of new products."
"Product line additions and expansions have led to misleading products and redundant items competing for limited shelf space," penned another pharmacist, alluding to formula changes some manufacturers have made in their products. "This turns me toward well-advertised originator products [offering] no hype, just value."
Cough-Cold-Allergy-Flu Product Recommendations
Following is a breakdown of the over-the-counter cough, cold, allergy and flu products survey respondents said they recommended. Slightly more than half of the respondents were pharmacy managers, with the remainder split between chief pharmacists and staff pharmacists.