What OTC Companies Can Learn from Seasonality

What OTC Companies Can Learn from Seasonality

As I write this, the days are getting shorter and the nights are getting colder, and the summer fun now seems like a distant memory.

According to the Met Office (the U.K.’s national weather service), summer 2018 was the U.K.’s joint hottest on record, and given the unseasonably hot temperatures, I’m sure this comes as no surprise. The prolonged hot weather and the success of England’s football team in the World Cup meant that we spent more time outdoors enjoying barbeques, picnics in the park, ice cold drinks and lots of simmer activities.

Over the summer, and despite the uncertainty surrounding Brexit, shoppers boosted their spending and felt more confident about the state of the economy and job prospects, with overall consumer confidence increasing five points to 101. Major supermarkets also enjoyed success over the summer with the best seen volume growth in five years, at +2.9% (1). Over-the-counter (OTC) categories also enjoyed strong summer growth, as value sales increased 4.1% and unit sales grew 1.9%, making it the fastest growth in the last four years (2).

So, with fond memories of the summer that’s just ended, let’s take a look at what we can learn as we look ahead and prepare for the next season.

Seasonality has a huge impact on OTC sales performance, and although it varies by category, 60% of sales are subject to this. We, of course, associate summer with hay fever and allergies; however, lots of other categories also enjoy the seasonal uplifts that come with summer, such as eye care, foot care, antidiarrheals, first aid, travel sickness, antiseptic products, bite and sting and sunburn remedies. Not only did these seasonal categories show strong growth this summer, but they posted the fastest growth and highest sales peak of the last six years.

As the largest seasonal summer category, allergy remedies make up the sixth-largest OTC category, with annual sales of £126.6 million. The summer season, however, accounts for more than 50% of the annual total (3). Summer 2018 was one of the hottest and most successful allergy seasons. And while we can’t control the weather, we can look at the impact of other category drivers such as formats, timings and promotions, in order to understand how we can plan for growth.

How formats can help category growth

The allergy category is commoditized, particularly tablets, given the strong presence of generics and private-label offerings available. Although tablets account for almost 70% of the category, it was the slowest growing format this season. Other formats, such as sprays, syrups and drops, posted faster growth rates and generally more premium formats. Allergy shoppers generally stick to one preferred remedy format; therefore, to drive growth, manufacturers should look to encourage shoppers to purchase complementary formats—tablets plus spray for faster active relief of symptoms, for example—or encourage shoppers to trade up, either to a premium version or a one-off non-tablet format.

Use timings and promotions to your advantage

If you want to win in the summer season, timing is everything. The majority of allergy shoppers only purchase once during the season, so the opportunity is very limited, with late June and July being the critical months. Activation during this time will bring larger benefits, and each share point you gain will be worth a lot more to the brand. If you want your promotions to work hard, you can use off-shelf to maximize the return. It’s not, however, a one-size-fits-all approach. Look to target convenience store formats, small on-the-go pack sizes to promote impulse allergy relief. The obvious fit for small packs is the traditional impulse retailers or stores present on the high street; however, you may be surprised to know that promoting impulse allergy remedies is also important for larger retailers that also seek to address an impulse mission.

Weather is an uncontrollable factor in planning cycles, but maximizing promotions and staying up to date on changing format trends and shopper behaviors will help you to maximize your position next season.


  1. Nielsen Homescan Total Till, 4 weeks ended Aug. 11, 2018
  2. Nielsen Scantrack, 52 weeks ended Aug. 11, 2018
  3. Nielsen Scantrack, 52 weeks ended Oct. 6, 2018