Flu Benefiting Drugstore Chains, Cough, Cold Marketers

Shots, OTC remedies bringing in customers

DEERFIELD, Ill. -- The flu epidemic has helped drugstore chains and manufacturers of over-the-counter remedies, said a Forbes report.

Everything from over-the-counter (OTC) cough, cold and flu medications to thermometers and toothbrushes are flying off the shelves at drugstore chains, including Walgreens, the nation's largest, as "this has been a more active flu season than we've seen in … years," Jim Cohn, a Walgreens spokesperson, told the publication.

The retailer has honed its marketing messages in light of the flu frenzy, said the report. It has plastered checklists in its 8,000 stores that alert shoppers to what they will need to fight the bug, from cold and flu medicine to lip balm.

Walgreens pharmacists are also spending more time advising shoppers on" flu-related matters," be they flu shots or over-the-counter remedies, he said.

The retailer is the biggest provider of flu shots after the federal government, Cohn said.

The worst flu season in more than a decade has been a boon for cough-and-cold giants such as Johnson & Johnson, maker of Tylenol cold and flu remedies, and Reckitt Benckiser, which owns the Mucinex brand, said the report, citing AdAge.

Ted Karkus, CEO of ProPhase, said its Cold-EEZE Cold Remedy products are selling briskly on account of the flu outbreak. "No one was looking for this great spike [in business] that came out of the blue," he told Forbes. "It did catch us by surprise. We're shipping more products, displays and [filling] orders at a moment's notice from all of our major retailers, such as CVS, Rite Aid and Walgreens."

The rise in sales of its product comes even though Cold-EEZE is not officially a flu medication, but a cold remedy, because consumers often treat flu-like symptoms with cold medications, he said.

As ProPhase manufactures Cold-EEZE itself, it has been able to nimbly meet heightened demand. And sales of new products Cold-EEZE Oral Spray and QuickMelts, have sold at an unexpected, brisk pace due to the flu outbreak, the report said. In turn, "we had to ramp up manufacturing [of these new products] and fortunately, we were able to barely stay ahead of the curve due to the unusual spike in activity," as there was less new product in the pipeline than Cold-EEZE's established remedies, Karkus said.