Sore throats, runny noses, earache, colds and flu-like illness produce a range of symptoms that can usually be managed using over-the-counter medicines and don’t need antibiotics. That was the message from Public Health England (PHE) and the Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP) in the run up to last winter and with all the recent news about antibiotic resistance, we can probably expect more of the same this year. Instead, the PHE and the RCGP advise that those suffering from the aforementioned conditions opt for painkillers, home remedies such as honey and lemon, cough mixtures and lozenges.

And it seems that many sufferers have already taken this advice because despite 2013 having the lowest recorded incidence rates of cough, colds and flu for 16 years (RCGP data), brands such as Covonia and Fisherman’s Friend are selling well.

Ed Round, marketing manager at Covonia, says: "Despite these tough market conditions, Covonia forged ahead in the convenience market, taking share from Veno’s and Benylin to become the number one adult cough brand (IRI data). Covonia is number two in the total UK cough market and is the only brand to show consistent growth over the past 10 years, nearly tripling in size. In UK grocery, 31% of all adult cough sales are now accounted for by Covonia." Round says this growth has been fuelled by TV, press and PR investment.

This year will see the launch of Covonia chesty cough sugar-free syrup (which is also alcohol free). Round says this latest development follows strong demand for sugar-free options and products suitable for Muslims and others who don’t drink alcohol.

"Over 10% of all cough liquid sales now fall into this sub-category, but up until now it has been a niche area, dominated by lesser-known brands which ’milk’ sales and don’t re-invest in consumer advertising support.

"By stocking TV-advertised Covonia, forecourt retailers can benefit from massive consumer awareness and generate higher cash revenue than lower-priced competitors which don’t advertise. This year will be our biggest TV advertising campaign to date and we continue to invest in PR and social media as well." Round says the firm recently launched a new Facebook page, CovoniaUK, to help build a relationship with customers and fans of the tough, ’man up’ brand mentality.

Growth opportunity

He reckons the real growth opportunity is for independents, who don’t have access to the market insight that their bigger rivals have.

"For example, how many independents know that Covonia dry & tickly cough linctus is the UK’s best selling dry and tickly cough product and that Covonia chesty cough mixture is the UK’s best selling chesty cough formula? If Covonia doesn’t account for at least 31% of the cough bottle facings in their store, then in simple terms the store in question will be missing out on sales opportunities and profit by not stocking the UK’s two number one formulas."

Meanwhile, Forest Laboratories says its Veno’s cough medicines which are marketed in partnership with Ceuta Healthcare should be stocked in the key months of November-January,to act as beacons to the cough and cold category.

The range comprises: Veno’s expectorant for chesty coughs (for the symptomatic relief of coughs, including bronchial cough and chesty catarrh, particularly associated with colds and flu but not for children under the age of 12); Veno’s honey & lemon for tickly coughs (for the symptomatic relief of tickly coughs and sore throats. This is suitable for children aged from two years upwards); and Veno’s cough syrup for dry coughs (for the symptomatic relief of sore throat and unproductive cough in minor respiratory tract infections. Suitable for children from three years upwards). All variants are non-drowsy.

Double impact

Round says that 92% of Covonia users also purchase lozenges for consumption in between their cough mixture.

"Forecourt traders should therefore consider stocking Covonia double impact lozenges which have been specially blended in four powerful flavours (extra strong, strong original, strong sugar free and berry blast) each featuring a lozenge which is formed in two halves, the brown side containing a warming flavour and the white side mentholated. They really are lozenges with clout," he says.

Like Covonia, Fisherman’s Friend saw strong sales in the convenience and impulse sector for the 2013-14 winter season, with the brand recording a 2.6% uplift. The blackcurrant variant’s sales increase was particularly impressive up by 11.2% according to brand distributor Ceuta Healthcare.

Martin Stimson, area business manager for the UK, says a packaging makeover helped in making last season the brand’s most successful winter for nine years.

"Sales of medicated confectionery typically tend to yo-yo with the numbers of coughs and colds doing the rounds. But despite the lowest incidence rate we’ve seen for a long while, Fisherman’s Friend is on the up, and continuing to grow regardless."

It is the strong menthol and eucalyptus found in the lozenges that help keep winter ailments at bay. In fact, Fisherman’s Friend contains a third more menthol than its rivals. Menthol is widely used to treat colds, as it provides rapid relief from a blocked nose.

The convenience and impulse sector accounts for almost half of Fisherman’s Friends total sales, adds Stimson, and has made a vital contribution to growing the seven-strong range. The top-selling variants are original extra strong, then sugar-free blackcurrant, aniseed and sugar-free cherry. But also available are sugar-free mint, sugar-free original and sugar-free lemon. They come in a 25g pack, rrp 75p as well as a 45g box, rrp £1.45.

"All our variants are incredibly popular," says Stimson, "and we would obviously recommend that retailers stock all seven, so as to allow people to mix and match their favourite variants during the key winter colds season. However, we understand that this may not always be possible, so trialling different flavours can be a way of adding interest to the fixture."

the Common cold

According to Mintel’s Cough, Cold, Flu and Allergy Remedies report, which was published in April, more than four in five consumers (81%) had a cold at least once in the year ending November 2013, making it the most common ailment.
Mintel says those aged 16-24 are the most likely to suffer from colds, coughs, sore throats and flu, with nearly half (47%) of this demographic suffering from flu in the past year. This reflects the fact that just 6% of 16-24-year olds had the flu jab, as well as the less healthy lifestyles of many in this age group.
The report found that oral over-the-counter (OTC) remedies were the most popular treatments for cold/flu and allergy relief, with those who have suffered from a cough/sore throat the most likely to have used an OTC treatment (73%). Usage of OTC remedies is higher among those with heavier work schedules. Mintel says this means brands could look to develop packaging that is more suitable for ’on-the-go’ use, as well as start marketing products as being particularly suitable for busy people.

Catering for men

Women are more prepared for the cold and flu season than men, stocking up on remedies (21% versus 16% of men) and maintaining a high level of personal hygiene (30% clean their hands after coughing/sneezing into them versus 23% of men).
So says Mintel in its Cough, Cold, Flu and Allergy Remedies report. It states: "Men’s generally more relaxed approach to personal care and their health means that they are also less prepared than women when cold/flu strikes. This suggests that brands could use technology such as cold/flu forecast apps to help men better prepare ahead of the cold/flu season."
Forecourt retailers could cash in on this by targeting their male customers, ensuring cough and cold remedies are prominently displayed by the till to catch their eye when they’re paying for fuel.
More space could be available in this area when the tobacco display ban comes into force next April. Retailers who choose Expotutto’s Servertab overhead cigarette dispenser, for example, will have more space behind the till for high-margin lines such as over-the-counter remedies.