COVID-19 made us healthier. Will cough & cold medicine brands see drop in sales this year?

If there is a silver lining in the COVID-19 outbreak, it could be the marked decrease in incidences of cold and flu across the World.

Globally, up to 650,000 people die from seasonal flu. Social distancing, heightened hygiene measures and the adoption of mask wearing and frequent hand washing are thought to have contributed to the very low number of detected and reported flu illnesses. In the US, the percentage of respiratory specimens testing positive for influenza decreased from 20% to 2.3%. Anecdotally, it is not only the influenza virus that is being kept in check during lockdowns but a host of communicable diseases such as conjunctivitis, hand foot and mouth and diarrhoea. While this is good news for consumers, what does it mean for the makers of over-the-counter cold and flu remedies? 

It may seem counter-intuitive but many pharma companies have seen a sharp increase in demand for their cough and cold products. In the US, Nielsen identified that year on year, sales of cold/flu remedies went up 18.1% while cough remedies went up 16.9%.

However, this data was compiled up to the week ending 29th of February 2020, in what could be termed as “stocking-up for lockdowns”. More recent data from other countries such as Japan shows that an initial sales boost was followed by a drop, with sales at 60 to 70% to what they were the previous year. In South Africa, Clicks, the country’s leading health retail group reports that its pharmacy sales have come down because of the lower incidence of cold and flu too.

As the saying goes, no single sparrow (or two for that occasion) make a summer. It is too early to say if this is indicative of what is coming as countries follow the pandemic’s ups and downs at a different pace. We will need to wait for more sales data to be made publicly available before we get a clearer picture. However, we could safely assume that if consumers have a medicine cabinet overflowing with drugs they will not use, it is likely that they will not see the need to stock-up any further. Cold and flu medicines manufacturers may have to think of new benefits to keep consumers interested, and sales growing in 2021. If you want to explore how to turn this challenge into a springboard for growth and innovation, get in touch!


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