Supermarkets are gearing up for better days in the stomach remedy category, especially with the introduction of new products switching from prescription to over-the-counter status.
With sales falling last year in several stomach segments, the category got a boost earlier this year when the Food and Drug Administration approved Pepcid AC Acid Controller for OTC sales.
Johnson & Johnson/Merck Consumer Pharmaceutics, Fort Washington, Pa., marketers of the new switch product, will certainly draw attention to the category with an expected $100 million launch this month of the heartburn remedy.
"This is a great addition to the antacid category," said Jan Winn, director of health and beauty care and general merchandise at Big Y Foods, Springfield, Mass.
Retailers also are anxiously awaiting the approval for counter sales of two other antacid drugs, Zantac from Glaxo Wellcome, London, and Tagamet from SmithKline Beecham, Pittsburgh.
"We haven't had a sales increase in the category. However, with new items coming out, we hope that will change," said Larry Fogliasso, director of nonfood at Gelson's Markets, Encino, Calif. "We plan to bring in one or two stockkeeping units of Pepcid AC." Food store antacid sales reached $409 million for the year ended April 30, 1995, a 3% gain over the year before, according to Towne-Oller & Associates, New York, a subsidiary of Information Resources Inc., Chicago. Decreases were posted in diarrhea remedies and laxatives for the same period. Diarrhea remedies fell 7% to $74.7 million, and laxatives dropped 4% to $190 million.
According to A.C. Nielsen, Schaumburg, Ill., the top-30 antacid products at supermarkets for the year ended December 1994 generated sales of $291 million, a 0.6% decrease from the year before. During this same period, the top-30 laxatives brought in $168 million, a 2.5% decrease. Diarrhea remedies generated $61 million, a 0.7% decrease. On a brighter note, the top-30 anti-gas products brought in $26 million, a 32% increase.
Some supermarket executives are bucking the sales slumps of various segments by giving more visibility to caplets, which have become a force in the category, and to new products.
"Caplets for stomach remedies, and also colds, are doing well," said Wanda Lovelace, health and beauty care buyer at Jons Markets, Los Angeles. "We've brought in six additional SKUs in those two categories over the past six months."
Jons may add more caplet SKUs if demand continues. Over the past year, its stomach remedy category sales have increased about 4%, according to Lovelace. The chain has also increased the size of the category from 24 linear feet to 36 linear feet.
"One of the reasons you're seeing more caplet SKUs is that more [manufacturers] are producing them. With all the new advents in caplets, it's hard not to increase lines," explained Allen Karpe, director of HBC at Valu Foods, Baltimore.
Shari Steinbach, a spokeswoman at Spartan Stores, Grand Rapids, Mich., said shelf sets are carefully monitored as new products are introduced. "We make schematic changes and deletions while attempting to be sure the new item will add sales and not cannibalize existing sales. [Our buyers] evaluate everything that comes down," she added.
When asked what products are leading the category, most retailers report success with Pepto Bismol. Several retailers are promoting the product with temporary priced reductions.
"We usually advertise it with a reduced price. We'll reduce the price and put a TPR tag on it," said Lovelace.
But some said other brands also are doing well. At Spartan Stores, top sellers are Tums, Imodium A-D and private label. Both its antacid and laxative sales are up 18%, said Steinbach.
In an SN poll, retailers were asked to comment on stomach remedy category sales, products and promotions. Here's what they had to say:
For us, Pepto-Bismol [is the biggest seller]. We usually advertise it with a reduced price. We'll reduce the price and put a TPR tag on it.
When we set up a new item, we usually send a bulletin out to the stores, telling them what item has to be taken off, and what item has to be put in its place. Usually someone from the manufacturer will come out and help do this.
I'm not sure why laxatives dropped off. I think, at least in California, the economy is so bad that people are buying just what they need. Antacids would be something they'd take regularly, but laxatives would be something they would only need once in a while.
Grand Rapids, Mich.
Our antacid and laxatives sales are up 18%. Our top sellers are Tums, Imodium, and our private label. We carry 21 Tums SKUs, and three Imodium SKUs.
As new products are introduced, we make schematic changes and deletions while attempting to be sure the new item will add sales, and not cannibalize existing sales. [Our buyers] evaluate everything that comes down.
To draw attention to stomach remedies on the shelf, we use shelf signs, advertisements and off-shelf displays.
director of HBC
The whole category is down. Laxatives are down about 4%.
Caplets are doing well. We've added about six or seven SKUs recently. One of the reasons you're seeing more caplet SKUs is that more (manufacturers) are producing them. With all the new advents in caplets, it's hard not to increase lines.
The reason why antacids are up may be because people are strictly using them as a calcium supplement. In antacids, our biggest seller is probably Tums. It's always been.
To promote, we have shelf-talkers, TPRs, and block ads. We always work closely with manufacturers. They give us money to promote the category.
Bowling Green, Ky.
There's been no change in category sales over the past year. However, caplets are growing for us because consumers find it easier to take them. We took out several tablet SKUs and replaced them with several caplet SKUs. The manufacturers are pushing them. I think it's a trend. They're easier to take and don't taste as bad as liquid.
director of nonfood
We haven't had a sales increase in the category. However, with new items coming out, we hope that will change. We plan to bring in one or two SKUs of Pepcid AC.
Right now, we've been seeing the biggest movement on the new Pepto-Bismol caplets. That's been moving very well for us. A lot of people have not been content always using a liquid. The new tablet-type form is much easier to swallow.
As far as promotions, we leave that up to manufacturers and brokers. They can get involved in one of our in-house programs. We have what we call a no-clip coupon program. We promote the program on our shelves with a flier that says, "No clip coupon, Save 25 Cents." When a product is scanned, 25 cents is deducted from the price.
Pepto-Bismol is always No. 1. We have done some actual displaying and some ads on the Pepto-Bismol. They've got a new caplet out. We've actually been running ads on those categories.
We have freestanding displays in almost every store. We work with the Procter & Gamble representative directly. They have a labor force in our area; they go around and work our stores monthly. They go to every store, and work all of their products on the shelf. They put the signage up, and do everything that needs to be done.
nonfood direct-store buyer
Community Cash Stores
Pepto-Bismol's been probably the best seller overall. And Maalox has been a good second. Riopan would be a third.
Occasionally, we advertise [the category]. We mostly run Smart-Buys, TPRs. This time of year we don't [use displays]. Manufacturers have really been growing the category for us. They support us at retail.
Imodium is another big product. It's probably the No. 1 with Pepto-Bismol. They're two different segments, but Imodium does very well for us.
We've seen a rise in the category, possibly because of the aging population. Gastral problems and indigestion seem to be on the rise right now.