Uncertain economic outlook in 2019

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As well as the ongoing uncertainty over Brexit, another cloud on the economic horizon for 2019 is the health of the US retail sector. According to a report over the weekend by the FT, shares in US retailers are set for their biggest quarterly sell-off since the financial crisis. This follows weak economic data in Asia-Pacific, especially China where retail sales hit a 15-year low in November 2018, and Europe, prompting concerns about a global economic slowdown.

Tariffs, and the threat of tariffs, have been one factor. Some US retailers are reportedly now having to offload surplus stock at a heavy discount, after accelerating imports in recent months to avoid planned higher tariffs (which are now on hold), while the fall in industrial output in China is partly linked to US tariffs that have been imposed. Also, concerns have resurfaced among investors about the ability of bricks & mortar retailers to navigate the e-commerce revolution. As a result, shares in various US retailers have fallen sharply, from high-end to mass market chains, like Target (down 23%).

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Amazon shares have also declined this quarter, though the e-commerce giant still looks on course to disrupt pharmaceutical distribution and reimbursement in 2019, a fact that hasn’t eluded many top pharma executives. J&J CEO, Alex Gorsky, in an interview with Fortune, said: “We have conversations at all levels going on with Amazon. I think Jeff (Bezos) and as importantly Amazon is a very innovative organisation, and they see this as an opportunity to make a difference. Just as we are partnering with them today in areas of our consumer products, we’ll look forward to partnering with them in the future in some of these other areas as well.”

Pfizer Chairman & CEO Ian Read also said late last year: “Any system of distribution that can cut costs and get a wide availability of products to patients is something that the whole industry would be interested in.” This disruption to pharma distribution, allied with the current economic uncertainty, looks set to make for a volatile year in 2019. According to Nicholas Hall, the “Big Beasts of Big Pharma are right. Amazon and Alibaba are today the most powerful disruptors of the healthcare industry. Some brand marketers will embrace this change, most will not … until it’s too late.” 

Nicholas Hall’s New Paradigms for CHC 2019: Over the Horizon, our upcoming new Signature Report written by Nicholas, focuses on a range of important issues surrounding the CHC Market, including Innovation, Success Factors, Digital Engagement, Competition and much more. It is an essential read for all players striving to compete in this rapidly evolving marketplace. To find out more or to place your order, please contact melissa.lee@NicholasHall.com

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Bangladesh: Amazon eyeing 2020 entry

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As today’s OTC DASHBOARD hot topic report shows, the e-commerce market in Asia-Pacific is undergoing rapid change, with China passing new e-commerce laws that will take effect in January 2019, while India has also just released draft rules for the online sale of medicines. Amazon also last week unveiled a new Hindi version of its website.

Yet all this upheaval is not isolated to the major markets of India and China. Amazon announced over the weekend that it is planning to begin operations in Bangladesh within the next couple of years, to compete with its arch e-commerce rival Alibaba, which is already present in the country via Daraz. With a population of just over 166mn, Bangladesh is an attractive and fast-developing market.

Amazon

According to local reports, however, resistance from local e-commerce players in Bangladesh is likely to be strong. Many are opposed to the government’s new Digital Commerce Policy, which allows foreign companies to have 100% shares in local e-commerce ventures (previously it was capped at 49%).

Key areas of sensitivity will be pricing and investment in the local economy. The e-Commerce Association of Bangladesh (e-Cab) is in favour of protection for local e-commerce companies and is reportedly working on a list of policy recommendations, including foreign firms having to host their websites locally, as well as ensuring 90% of staff are locals and that companies have a logistical presence in the country.

Explore the digital landscape at Nicholas Hall’s upcoming OTC.NewDirections Executive Conference. Other topics on the agenda include Medical Device Regulations, Medical Cannabis, Switch and Smart Probiotics. This will be an inspiring day on 12 September in London, focusing on Where Innovation Meets Regulation. For details of the full agenda or to reserve your place contact elizabeth.bernos@NicholasHall.com

E-commerce: Amazon picks up PillPack

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Amazon’s latest foray into the healthcare sector – a definitive agreement to acquire US online pharmacy, PillPack – has huge disruptive potential for the traditional drugstore pharmacy sector. A start-up founded in 2013, PillPack is licensed in 49 US states to offer pre-sorted doses of medications, coordinate refills and renewals, and ensure timely home delivery to customers. Financial terms of the deal were not revealed, but the transaction is expected to close during Q2 2018, subject to regulatory approvals and other customary closing conditions.

Walmart was rumoured to be interested in acquiring PillPack earlier this year, and the company lost US$3bn in market capitalisation after the Amazon deal was announced on Thursday 28th June. The two companies are now locked in an intense global rivalry, with Walmart coming out on top in India after acquiring a 77% stake in Flipkart in May 2018. Such huge M&A investments will advance e-commerce’s share of the pharmaceuticals market in key markets like India and the US, with the potential to revolutionise the consumer healthcare sector too.

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PillPack is currently a small operation, expected to post revenue of US$100mn this year, but Amazon’s existing customer base and shipping infrastructure could allow it to quickly scale up. Brick & mortar pharmacy chains are already seeing the consequences of the deal; as the news broke, shares in Rite Aid fell 11%, Walgreens Boots Alliance 9.9% and CVS Health 6.1%, a collective US$11bn in market value.

Though consumers in many markets remain hugely reliant on pharmacist advice when making OTC purchases, there’s no doubt that price is a very sensitive area that makes traditional brick & mortar retailers vulnerable in this evolving retail landscape. Certain OTC categories where there is a strong wellness or personal care element, such as VMS and dermatologicals, are most likely to see a significant rise in e-commerce sales.

E-commerce, as well as OTC adjacencies and digital health, are three of the hot topic areas that OTC DASHBOARD will be focusing on this year, in its weekly briefings, infographics and blogs. For a free trial of the service, please contact hannah.burke@nicholashall.com

How will Amazon’s Basic Care line impact OTC?

Amazon recently announced the launch its line of generic OTC medications named the Basic Care range. The line competes with large and established US generic brands including Giant Eagle’s TopCare, Target’s Up & Up and Walmart’s Equate.

The Basic Care line is comprised of 60 items and includes cough, cold & allergy, gastrointestinal, analgesic, hair growth and smoking control products. Technically, Amazon does not own these products, which are produced by private label manufacturer Perrigo, but it does put Amazon in a position to put the squeeze on other marketers. Amazon has taken a very simplistic approach to the branding of Basic Care but claims the products are of the same standard as established OTCs.

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Should OTC marketers worry?

The answer is yes and no. Amazon’s biggest competitive advantage will be on price. Basic Care offers much lower prices compared to established brands especially when buying in bulk. This will work well for consumers who like to stock up on OTC items so they have them to hand when needed. Also the convenience of being able to couple this with a dash button and Amazon Prime will be a winning combination for some.

In an interview with CNBC, retail analyst Scot Ciccarelli suggested some OTC marketers may need to become more willing to lower prices. A number of retailers such as Walgreen’ and Walmart have already had to sacrifice margins to become more of a threat to Amazon after the acquisition of Whole Foods Market.

However, Amazon will still struggle in terms of accessibility. For example when the first symptoms of a headache come on, most consumers will go to their local pharmacy or supermarket to get instant relief. Amazon will not be able to offer convenience by just selling products online.

Is this part of a bigger picture?

Amazon is yet to make its plans for the prescription drug market completely clear. However, reports suggest launching an OTC range could be a step closer to a broader healthcare business play.

Whether you want to find out more about the latest innovations, benchmark the competition or simply keep abreast of new launches, Nicholas Hall’s extensive OTC New Products Tracker is an essential competitive intelligence tool that you simply must trial. Subscribers can also benefit from a newsletter highlighting the key product innovations affecting the industry. Find out more or set up your free trial today by contacting david.redford@NicholasHall.com

Voice search: How will OTC adapt?

A recent Wall Street Journal video, exploring how the advent of voice-activated online shopping is forcing consumer goods companies to adapt their marketing models, has caused a lot of discussion internally here at Nicholas Hall & Company. In this week’s blog, we provide some context on this growing trend – a phenomenon some are calling “v-commerce”, with the “v” standing for voice – and look at the implications for the consumer healthcare industry.

According to an Accenture survey conducted in late 2017, ownership of voice-activated devices, or “smart speakers”, is rising sharply in many countries, up from 7% to 21% of Americans over the past year, and up from 4% to 14% in China. Whether it’s Apple’s Siri, Amazon’s Alexa or Google Home, this rising tide of “digital voice assistants” is expected to achieve penetration of 30-40% in many countries by the end of 2018.

50% of all searches will be done by voice within the next 5 years” – Sébastien Szczepaniak, Head of Sales & E-Business, Nestlé

If indeed half of all search queries are performed on voice-activated technologies by 2023, then this poses some stiff challenges for marketers. For example, at present, Amazon’s Alexa algorithm:

  1. Only provides two brand options in any product category
  2. Favours brands you’ve previously purchased, entrenching your preferences

Compared to retail outlets, where several brands are often on display, and e-commerce, where the brand options are even more extensive, voice search provides a very limited choice for consumers and this in turn could have a chilling effect on the brands and marketers that rank No.3 and below in certain categories.

When I tested Amazon Alexa, at home in the UK this past weekend, I was given two options when requesting a “stomach remedy” – Amazon’s first choice was Gaviscon Double Action (RB), followed by Andrews (GSK). When asking for a specific ingredient (“paracetamol”), Alexa was less reliable, with antacid Rennie (Bayer) offered as the top choice, followed by ibuprofen-based Nurofen Express (RB).

Of course, the technology remains in its infancy, so algorithms will evolve. One saving grace for OTC is that it will remain somewhat immune, compared to other consumer goods industries, given that medicines still require pharmacist intervention in many countries and that often the need to treat is so urgent that many people won’t be able to wait for their medicine to be delivered.

However, marketers of supplements – and other lifestyle and preventive remedies that are required less urgently – will need to start factoring this trend into their business plans immediately. With Amazon now starting to launch its own supplements and consumer healthcare remedies, the competition to be one of those Top 2 picks could get even more intense in the near future for OTC marketers.

Whether you want to find out more about the latest innovations, benchmark the competition or simply keep abreast of new launches, Nicholas Hall’s extensive OTC New Products Tracker is an essential competitive intelligence tool that you simply must trial. Subscribers can also benefit from a newsletter highlighting the key product innovations affecting the industry. Find out more or set up your free trial today by contacting david.redford@NicholasHall.com

Avon enters VMS category

As this week’s OTC DASHBOARD infographic shows, the percentage of Americans that consume dietary supplements continues to grow, hitting an all-time high of 76% in 2017. This has helped create a vast US vitamins, minerals & supplements category, which in turn continues to attract the interest of companies not traditionally associated with the OTC market. For example, Amazon launched several supplements as part of its Amazon Elements line in spring 2017, including vitamin D, turmeric and calcium products, all of which have a strong emphasis on ingredient traceability.

Another new entrant in 2018 is Avon, a company that is undergoing a rapid transformation to become the “leading social selling company in North America”, according to CEO Scott White. Part of the company’s strategy is a return to the health & wellness market, including the launch of a new Espira line of 11 dietary supplements.

Launched in January 2018, and available at a retail price of US$12-35 through Avon Representatives or http://www.avon.com, Espira for Avon is categorised into three principles of wellness:

  • Restore contains 2 sedatives & sleep aids and 2 multivitamins, with ingredients that help to reduce occasional stress and enhance restful sleep, including Sensoril, L-theanine, vitamin B, magnesium, fish oil + antioxidants from fruits & vegetables
  • Boost is subdivided into Metabolism Boost and Natural Energy products, with ingredients such as protein, probiotic, fibre, green tea, cacao + whole coffee fruit to help maintain a healthy metabolism, clear out the system and control hunger
  • Glow contains 3 health & beauty supplements formulated with antioxidants, biotin, vitamin C + collagen peptides to help hair, skin and nails look their best by protecting from daily damage and restoring cells while you sleep

As with the Amazon Elements range, Avon’s new products will be sold via the e-commerce channel, while the company will also be looking to steal share from multilevel and direct marketers such as Herbalife and Amway.

NHC’s 40th Anniversary in 2018

New Year’s message from our Chairman & CEO Nicholas Hall:nh

The start of a new year, and already there is a big ripple of activity in the global CHC market. MM&M NewsBrief ran a story on Tuesday headlined: “CPG companies Nestle and Kellogg court OTC”. It is an interesting notion that Kellogg could buy into the mainstream CHC market as their previous forays have focused on functional foods. But it seems a stretch to me, although there would be a certain neatness if Steve Cahillane, the new CEO of Kellogg and formerly Nature’s Bounty President & CEO would bid for Pfizer Consumer, where Paul Sturman was President. And where is Paul now? — Steve’s replacement at Natures Bounty.

So, it’s possible but unlikely that Steve will become a New Friend (or more properly a Friend Reunited), but our New Friend at FDA, Scott Gottlieb, is making interesting noises that could potentially liberalise the rather static US market. Could this include a new 3rd Class, about which I have been a lone voice in the wilderness for almost all of my time in the CHC industry (more on that later)? CHPA and other stakeholders (apart from retail pharmacy) say “No” as this is illiberal. Mmm, I think the other way. Switching more Rx products under the personal supervision of a pharmacist is very liberal, and will certainly lower costs, which is empowering for consumers — a key test of liberalism. And rounding up the last of our New Friends in this New Year issue, let’s welcome Amazon as a CHC brand marketer, not just an online platform. Some would say, who needs friends like Amazon? Well, I would rather have Amazon as a Friend than an Enemy!

Two prominent association leaders are leaving the industry, the Departing Doctors Gerald Dziekan and Hubertus Cranz. They have done amazing work, as my Good Friend Birgit Schuhbauer relates below, and will be very much missed. I hope the NHC Group will have good or possibly even better relations with their successors. Another Departing Friend who will be particularly missed is Senator Orrin Hatch, who did so much to override FDA when we had no friends there at all. Former presidential candidate Mitt Romney will probably succeed to the Utah seat of Senator Hatch. I hope that the man who made millions at Bain will be as — or even more — sympathetic to CHC.

What about Remaining Friends? Well, that’s us. I almost can’t believe it, but we set up NHC in January 1978. Indeed, a few minutes ago one of my Very Best Friends sent congratulations on our 30th Anniversary. Obviously we were having too much fun to count! I still have clients and colleagues from that era, including the redoubtable Gilbert (Sans Frontieres) Mertens, who still comes to our conferences and last year was our guest in Singapore. 40 years is an amazing length of time, but we at NHC are all about the Future.

So after many years of some change and a lot that’s still the same, good or bad, it is with very great pleasure that all of us at NHC Group wish our contacts a Happy New Year for the 40th time. May it be one of good health, great happiness, peace, success and prosperity. We will be here for another 40 years (at least corporately) and we hope you will be too!!