The winter chill and a flurry of media reports touting the benefits of zinc lozenges in alleviating the severity and duration of the common cold are creating a big demand for this "cure" at supermarkets.
Zinc lozenges have been on the market for about a year. Public interest was first generated by a Cleveland Clinic Foundation study, which was published in July in the Annals of Internal Medicine, a trade journal.
The zinc products first caught the public's attention this winter when television programs like ABC's "20/20" reported they help to shorten the average length of the common cold by up to half.
Since then supermarkets have been inundated with requests for zinc lozenges, and manufacturers have been hard pressed to keep up with the escalating demand, according to retailers surveyed by SN.
Albertson's, Boise, Idaho, carries three types of zinc lozenges -- Cold-Eeze, Cold-Free and Cold Season Plus. "We have had the products for approximately six months. They are doing very well," commented Jenny Enochson, media relations coordinator. Albertson's is merchandising zinc lozenges on the pharmacy counter near vitamins, she added.
Salt Lake City-based Dan's Foods has one stockkeeping unit of Cold Season Plus, manufactured by Quantum, Eugene, Ore. It is stocked in the cough and cold section, directly across from the pharmacy. "Our pharmacist has been asked a lot about them and judging by the interest in them I think they will sell well," said Steve Sorenson, manager of general merchandise and health and beauty aids.
Dan's Foods prices Cold Season Plus at $3.99 for a box of 24 lozenges. "We paid $2.75 for them, so it's a 32% margin. For a cough and cold item that's good." The margin on cough/cold usually averages around 24%, he said.
"People have been asking for Cold-Eeze [the product mentioned on '20/20']. We don't stock that yet, but I'd like to. It's the brand most people are asking for," Sorenson said.
"I have people requesting Cold-Eeze three times a day," said Wendy Mayan, a pharmacist at Bi-Lo Foods, DuBois, Pa. "We have never been able to order them. Our wholesalers are never able to fill it." She said competing drugstores in the area have had the same problem.
A spokeswoman for Quigley Corp., Doylestown, Pa., which manufactures Cold-Eeze, said the popularity of the product is creating a backlog. "Quigley has upped production to 500,000 bags of Cold-Eeze. It is carried by a few supermarkets, including Acme Markets, North Tazewell, Va; Grand Union Co., Wayne, NJ; and Save Mart Supermarkets, Modesto, Calif. Down the road, any of the supermarkets that have placed orders will receive it."
Steve Lauder, health care category manager for the wholesaler, Supervalu, Minneapolis, said the availability of zinc products is pretty "hit or miss" at the moment. "If supermarkets get hold of them they do pretty well."
Zinc manufacturers say they are stepping up production to meet the soaring demand. There are about six products on the market at the moment, but only three companies have the license to the zinc patent: Quigley Corp, Weider Nutrition Group, Salt Lake City, and F&F Foods, Chicago.
F&F Foods' product, Fast Dry Zinc, costs $2.30 for a 14-tablet roll. Supermarkets are selling it for $3.99 to $4.99. Fast Dry Zinc, is being sold in the southeast at Winn-Dixie Stores, Jacksonville, Fla., and in the Chicago area at Dominick's Finer Foods, Northlake, Ill.
Weider Nutrition Group's Cold-Free lozenges have been available since Christmas. A 50-count bottle has a suggested retail price of $8.99. Among supermarkets reportedly selling Cold-Free are Giant Food, Landover, Md.; Fred Meyer Inc., Portland, Ore.; Albertson's, Boise, Idaho; Shop Rite Corp., Elizabeth, N.J.; and Meijer, Grand Rapids, Mich. Companies distributing Cold-Free include Bergen Brunswig, Orange, Calif; SuperValu; and McKesson Drug Co., San Francisco.
"What the patent holder found is if you mix zinc with certain kinds of sugars, and you put it in your mouth, it made your cold go away. Once you have the symptoms of the cold you are supposed to put one tablet in your mouth every hour," explained Scott Hulvat, senior vice president of sales and marketing at F&F Foods.
"We have tested 39 people and their colds have been wiped out in from one to three days. It absolutely works. Anyone who can keep a zinc tablet in the mouth can take this product."
"If it works it will be more than a fad," said Supervalu's Lauder. "But you have to suck on one of those things every hour. I don't know how many people are going to suck on a tablet every hour. Right now, a lot of people want to try it."