People with cough and cold symptoms

Fever pitch: Are you stocked up for cough & cold season?

Colds and flu are set to go viral and that’s a cue for c-stores to build up their inventory of OTC remedies now to circumnavigate possible shortages.
Medication for sore throat, flu, runny nose, influenza, cough: medicine syrup, nasal spray, pills, capsules, drugs.

What’s in store for fall and winter 2023/24? Here’s the forecast—flu viruses and colds will be moving into the area with a chance of sore throat, coughing and sneezing. If the medical soothsayers, like those at the  CDC in the U.S., are right, a ‘tripledemic’ might be on the horizon—a perfect storm of COVID, flu and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV).

That’s all to say c-stores should be thinking ahead and stocking up now on all the OTC essentials customers will be looking for, including cough drops, throat lozenges, pain reliever and those small Barbie-sized packages of tissues. If the shortages of last year taught us anything, it’s this: try to keep one step ahead of demand or risk being caught short.

According to the latest C-store IQ National Shopper Study: Purchasing Report, 11% of shoppers purchased OTC medication at c-store in the previous month. And the outlook for the category is sunny. Statista is predicting the OTC cold and cough remedies category will grow annually by 5.04% (2023 to 2027).

Looking at 2022, Ricola enjoyed record sales. It saw its household penetration increase by 60%. Along with its award-winning ad creative and significant social media engagement, the reasons are clear, according to Jan McCallum, senior business development manager—North America. “Consumers are buying cough drops year-round now in record amounts to treat coughs,” she says. “Post-COVID, no one wants to be the person coughing in a public setting.”

The company’s sales data shows Ricola has gained share of high efficacy items like its Extra Strength and Menthol Centres SKUs. Customers were also stocking up with Ricola adding larger pack sizes. A new Berry Medley product is the brand’s latest innovation and shoppers are buying it just because they enjoy the flavour. The brand also offers products suited for coughs and colds, as well as for non-sick occasions, like a throat tickle.

Jan McCallum
Jan McCallum

Efficacy is the main motivator for buyers, notes McCallum. “Cold and flu products must be effective and work quickly. They also need to be convenient and should taste great.” And to keep the sales momentum going, Ricola will be returning to price promotions and displaying products in Q4 of this year after supply constraints and high demand during and post-COVID. “We have 360-degree consumer activation of digital, TV and social influencer generated content at the highest spend levels in our category,” she adds.

Sales of Fisherman’s Friend have rebounded over the last year as consumers are getting back to more normal routines, says Voula Papadakos, marketing manager. The latest offering, Orange Spice, launched in 2020, continues to be supported with distribution and consumer communication.

She agrees that efficacy is the top draw for OTC cold and cough items. “It continues to be the number one priority,” she says. “Fisherman’s Friend is well known for its efficacy and has a variety of flavours to meet the demand.”

Mondelēz reports strong growth for the Halls brand post-pandemic: 2022 was a record-breaking year and the brand is continuing to grow this year, but the pace has slowed as the category returns to normal seasonality (September to March). Halls is already in market with new products, including Halls minis Watermelon and Halls Vitamin C Strawberry Lemonade, launched in June 2023.

“Consumers are still looking for cough, sore throat and nasal congestion relief during the peak season from September to March; however, there’s also a rise in consumers looking for vitamin C/immunity products to prevent symptoms before they get worse during the spring and summer,” explains brand manager Spoorthi Srinivasa.

To support sales, she suggests c-stores make the shopping experience easier and target younger consumers (who under index in cough drop consumption) with displays, promotions and high-visibility shelf placement. As well, she says cross promotions with complementary categories, such as cough syrup, hand sanitizer and vitamins, would help increase basket size.

At convenience and gas, there’s a new player vying for space and market share. The Bentasil brand has had a loyal following in Canada for nearly 40 years, focusing on the drug and grocery space. However, when Regal Confections acquired the Tosuta International in November 2021, the sugar-free lozenge brand was part of the deal.  

“Just this year we have been trying to penetrate C&G,” says Sheldon Davis, senior vice-president, sales & marketing for Regal. “It is a strong performer and a unique item: high quality and made in Italy. The category is important to us because it gives us another area to play in.”

Bentasil comes in a convenient and compact resealable pouch to maintain freshness and eliminate the need to wrap every lozenge. Its soft texture allows it to be chewed or sucked to help soothe sore throats and clear blocked nasal passages. The most popular flavour is Eucalyptus, says Davis, adding the range includes Blackcurrant, Honey-Lemon, Cherry, and Orange with Vitamin C.

 He recommends operators boost visibility with secondary displays in high-traffic areas: “30% to 40% of cough and throat lozenges are sold in shoulder seasons like September or April. So be ready and in-stock. The cough and cold season across Canada is a long one.”

Among all brands chiming in, there is a consensus that having inventory on hand is essential and that being in front of store is the ideal location. Whether it’s a planned purchase or an impulse buy prompted by a throat tickle or a sniffle, shoppers will be reaching for quick relief.


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