A Healthy Approach to Flu Season

A Healthy Approach to Flu Season

Naomi Sleeper
Director,  Productivity Improvement
Imperial Distributors


Most of us have been victim of (or witness to) the brutal symptoms of this winter’s historically bad flu season. With flu vaccines only 36% effective overall and 59% effective in children, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more Americans than usual have fallen ill with the flu over these past few months.

Unsurprisingly, this year’s flu season has also had an impact on revenues, not only in the healthcare industry, but also in the grocery channel. Outside the pharmacy, grocery stores are experiencing boosts in sales from symptom-relieving OTC medicines to orange juice (Business Insider, February 9, 2018). While some drug manufacturers have struggled to keep up with demand of the unexpectedly severe flu season, many go-to brands have kept up with customer and patient needs.

As of mid-February, the flu season had not yet peaked, suggesting that doctor-reported incidences will likely continue in March. As cold and flu season persists, remaining in-stock on key items throughout March will be critical to preventing lost sales and providing customers with the products they need to get well. Whether preparing for the end of this season or developing an improved sales strategy for next season, the following tips will help supermarket retailers cater to customers’ needs during their unwell spells.

1. Allocate additional space for cold and flu remedies during cold and flu season (and for allergy relief during spring allergy season). A highly visible, easily accessible rack of product, helps customers find what they need quickly.
2. Plan for ongoing replenishment and extra placement of cough drops. Cough drops are the biggest sellers in any cough/cold season. Replace or replenish cough drop displays monthly to cover needs and add additional placement at checkout.
3. Provide a complete seasonal cold/flu (or allergy) remedy solution. Along with OTC meds, be sure to merchandise other non-food comfort items like lip balms, nose balms and inhalers, humidifiers, tissues and relief-enhancing essential oils (like eucalyptus) and diffusers.
4. Take advantage of a holistic approach to a cold & flu themed display by cross-merchandising related grocery items, as well. One of the most common doctor recommendations for patients with cold and flu is to drink plenty of fluids; including water, ginger ale, juices, teas, honey and chicken broth can make your cold & flu remedy display especially robust.
5. Encourage customers to prevent the spread of viruses with key hygiene items. According to the CDC, the flu virus can live on moist surfaces for 72 hours. Be sure to include in cold & flu themed displays the following key items to help prevent the spread of viruses at home and work: hand soap, hand sanitizer, disinfecting wipes, hydrogen peroxide, rubbing alcohol (to clean thermometers), toothpaste and toothbrushes (sickness can be a helpful reminder for consumers to change out their toothbrushes every 3-4 months, per the American Dental Association’s (ADA) recommendation; and bristle contact between toothbrushes stored next to each other (or with a shared tube of toothpaste) can be enough to spread a virus to a family member).
6. Plan on manufacturer shortages in peak season. Prevent lost sales due to manufacturer shortages (as seen during this season) by pre-ordering inventory well before the start of the season and building small amounts of best sellers early in the season. While most of the items to be included on a cold & flu (or allergy) rack are everyday replenishment items, reserving extra inventory for supplementary merchandising and increased demand will help to ensure retailers can meet shoppers’ needs throughout peak season.
7. Advertise any available home delivery services. For a customer who is sick, traveling to the store even to pick up necessities can be a challenge (and risk further spread of illness). Retailers that offer home delivery through online ordering should be sure to promote these services as easy solutions for their unwell customers.

By heeding these tips for the remainder of this season and next, retailers can take a healthy approach to supporting the wellness of their customers.