It’s that time of year again - yes of course it’s nearly Christmas, but it’s also peak season for coughs and colds. But do you see yourself as a purveyor of pills and potions to see off these nasty bugs? Because, according to David Alston, national account manager at the Convenience Distribution Group (CDG), you should. "At CDG our raison d’etre is car care, but as our name says, we are about convenience - and so too are all forecourts. That means stocking over-the-counter medicines for headaches, colds and flu. And because these products are kept behind the counter, the category doesn’t get the TLC it deserves, but consumers do expect to be able to buy Nurofen at the forecourt on their way to work."

Alston reckons forecourt retailers can safely place the category in CDG’s hands: "We will look after it; all we ask for is some space behind the counter. We take a category approach and offer retailers the brand leaders. We also incentivise retailers with regular offers. However we’re not just about offering products at a price - we offer retailers a service with weekly visits from reps who help with merchandising and implementing planograms. Ours is a focused approach."

Alston says OTC medicines is the second biggest category for CDG after car care. "The products tend to be low margin for us as distributors, but there are good margins for retailers of 25%-plus. And the good thing is the sterling value that goes through the till, which is a good income for retailers."

Promotions for retailers are what Alston calls ’dealer loaders’ such as ’buy 12 outers for a price’ or ’buy so many get so many free’ - offers for retailers rather than directly for consumers. CDG’s current brochure includes deals on products that many consumers require after the excesses of Christmas and the New Year. For instance there is a ’six for five’ deal on Resolve hangover cure, ’12 for 10’ on Remegel indigestion relief and ’six for five’ on Diocalm Ultra.

Like CDG, GlaxoSmithKline Consumer Healthcare (GSK) says consumers expect to have easy access to products for common complaints such as colds and flu, indigestion and headaches. A spokesperson for the company says: "Medicines can be a distress purchase - and where there is an immediate need for symptomatic relief, price may not be an issue. In these instances forecourt convenience stores are particularly well placed to compete with the multiples and pharmacies. Stores which are located on commuter routes can help to meet the needs of consumers on their way to and from work, allowing them to seek relief from minor ailments and enabling them to get on with their work and social life."

Getting on with work is an important issue because many people cannot afford time off when they’re suffering from sniffles. And suffer they do. According to GSK’s Cold and Flu report, respiratory illness (including colds and flu) incidence levels in the UK and Ireland from September 2006 to March 2007 averaged just under four million a week.

AC Nielsen figures say the cold and flu category is the second largest OTC sector (behind analgesics) and is worth £380.6m.

When it comes to shopper behaviour, GSK has found that cold and flu remedies are primarily chosen for the symptoms they treat, followed by brand, format, strength, flavour and pack size. For coughs, purchases are again driven by symptom (type of cough), followed by brand, format and flavour. And for sore throats purchases are driven by efficacy and brand, then format and flavour.

The good news for forecourts is that for cold, flu and cough remedies, price is rarely a deciding factor because products are often a distress purchase.

When it comes to merchandising, eye level is essential because these products are, more often than not, kept behind the counter. GSK recommends retailers place beacon brands such as Beechams at eye level so they act as signposts to the category.

One brand that is synonymous with colds and flu is Lemsip, which has recently been boosted by the launch of Lemsip Max All in One lemon. It is described as the "most complete treatment available from Lemsip featuring the maximum level of ingredients available in one over-the-counter product".

It comes in packs of four, five or 10 sachets. Brand owner Reckitt Benckiser says it’s the only ’max strength’ cold and flu remedy available in a hot drink format that combines the necessary ingredients to treat all cold and flu symptoms including chesty coughs.

Lemsip senior brand manager, Vishal Kalia, says: "Lemsip Max All in One lemon means sufferers can avoid any dosing confusion because it contains all the ingredients needed to treat all major symptoms without the need for any extra cold and flu remedies on top."

Meanwhile, AC Nielsen data places Beechams as the number two cold and flu brand. Last season’s sales were buoyed by the introduction of Beechams All-in-One pocket packs. Beechams core focus for this season is the All-in-One range with emphasis on the tablets and the pocket packs. As only 36% of the population use a specific cold and flu remedy, GSK will be focusing heavily on converting users of analgesics to cold and flu products. The company believes this is a major penetration opportunity which will deliver significant growth for the category.

A new TV campaign will position Beechams as the brand for ’fighters’ - people who actively want to get on top of their cold by proactively treating it. In total there will be a £6.2m spend behind the brand including outdoor, radio and on-line advertising.

However, the latest addition to the GSK line-up is Beechams Active Cold Relief caplets, designed for those who feel that a cold or flu has left them with a foggy head. Containing paracetamol, caffeine and a decongestant, the caplets aim to provide effective relief from the major cold and flu symptoms in a convenient and easy-to-swallow form. They come in a tough, crush-resistant, ’compack’ wallet pack which can be carried in a pocket or handbag. Rrp is £3.49 for 14 caplets.

The easy-to-swallow descriptor is important it seems, as consumer research conducted by Anadin found that almost half of all women and one in three men over 50 admitted that they have difficulty swallowing painkillers because they are too big.

In response to this research, came the launch of easy-to-swallow Anadin Ultra, described as the smallest concentrated liquid ibuprofen capsule available to buy in the UK. It is 30% smaller than original Anadin Ultra. The capsules contain 200mg ibuprofen for all types of pain, and they can be bought in packs of eight, 12 or 16. Incidentally, CDG is currently running a ’12 for eight’ offer on eights packs and a ’six for four’ offer on 12s packs.

Staying with Anadin, research newly released in the UK shows that a combination of aspirin, paracetamol and caffeine (all found in Anadin Extra), is significantly more effective and faster at tackling tension headaches than any of the ingredients taken individually, even when given at their full recommended doses. The research supports the ’triple action is best’ message, which is being communicated by Anadin brand owner Wyeth as part of a focused media campaign on the treatment of tension headaches. A media campaign is currently under way using press and TV advertising.

Anadin Extra is available in packs of eight, 12 and 16. CDG has offers on Anadin Extra too, with an ’18 for 16’ deal on eights packs and ’12 for 11’ deals on 12s and 16s packs.

Meanwhile Nurofen, the number one selling analgesics brand in the UK - according to AC Nielsen statistics - has been boosted by the launch of Nurofen Express, a range of painkillers which is said to target pain twice as fast as standard Nurofen (ibuprofen). The launch follows research by TNS which revealed that the two most important things people want from a painkiller are speed and efficacy.

The word ’Express’ has been used on the brand to specifically convey the speed message so that consumers can easily understand the product benefits. Packaging will feature Nurofen’s well-known target symbol as well as a new red ’fast forward’ logo to reinforce the ’twice as fast’ message.

Nurofen Express comes in two easy-to-swallow formats - ibuprofen liquid capsules and ibuprofen lysine caplets. The capsules are available to forecourts in packs of 10 and 16, rrp £2.89 and £3.79 respectively. The caplets are available to forecourts in packs of six, 12 and 16, rrp £1.99, £2.99 and £3.49 respectively.

The introduction of Nurofen Express is being described as the biggest initiative from the brand since 2003. The launch is backed by a £10m TV advertising campaign.

The final word goes to Matt Speak, national account manager for Lemsip, who says: "With consumers now happy to self medicate, the forecourt environment is realising the benefit of stocking a core healthcare offering. Ninety per cent of sales are derived from the top four categories (analgesics, cold & flu, sore throat, heartburn/indigestion) and retailers are seeing significant incremental sales from an optimised healthcare range."


=== Toiletries by numbers ===

? The total UK toiletries market was worth just over £4bn in 2006.

? Over the coming years, men’s products are expected to show the strongest growth in the market as more men experiment with products and manufacturers introduce more items specifically for them.

? While Colgate and Gillette showed the highest penetration levels among men, at 72.5% and 72.1% respectively, men are expanding their brand repertoire with brands such as Dove and Nivea displaying relatively high levels of penetration for men - at 43.8% and 42.9%, respectively.

? Most products within the toiletries sector (shower gel, deodorant, hair care, skin care, oral care and shaving preparations) are regarded as necessities by the majority of households.

? Average household spend on toiletry products for 2005/06 was £9.60, up from £7.30 in 2004/05.

? 96.5% of women and 95% of men use toothpaste.

? 94% of women and 89% of men use deodorant.

? Shampoo is the most commonly used hair care product by men and women followed by conditioner for women and styling products for men.

? Although there is strong brand awareness and loyalty among consumers, many are also keen to try out new products.

? While the overall toiletries market benefits from the UK’s growing population, ours is also an ageing one. This is a disadvantage to the toiletries sector, as younger consumers are the heaviest users.

Source: Keynote toiletries report 2007