Assessing Covid-19’s impact on the VMS industry

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Despite various countries going into lockdown, governments are still allowing “essential” services and businesses to remain operational, putting the role of the dietary supplements industry in the spotlight. In some countries, like New Zealand, supplement marketers are allowed to maintain their operations as long as they are supplying “essential” businesses, such as pharmacies and supermarkets. However, according to the guidance provided by New Zealand Natural Health Products, health food stores do not fit the description of “essential” businesses.

The situation is similar but more complex in the USA, home to the world’s No.1 VMS market. While essential food and drug suppliers are open for business during Covid-19 restrictions, industry leaders are working to ensure that the same applies to speciality health food stores and cannabis dispensaries. No specific federal regulation is in place, but “essential business” status is being determined at state and local level. While California most decisively classified workers supporting cannabis and dietary supplement retail as essential workers, and Illinois added licensed medical cannabis dispensaries and cultivation centres to its essential healthcare operations list, not all states have set such guidelines.

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In a letter to state governors, industry associations including the Consumer Healthcare Products Association urge that supplement supply chains remain open in all states, arguing that now more than ever, consumers need essential nutrients to stay fit and healthy and proactively reduce their risk of chronic diseases without burdening an already overstretched healthcare system. They write: “As each of you plan your own approach to this challenging issue, we respectfully request you mirror White House / Centers for Disease Control & Prevention guidelines and make special accommodation for critical infrastructure industries that specifically include not only conventional foods but all subcategories of food, including dietary supplements, infant formulas, medical foods and spices & flavours.”

As for how the Covid-19 crisis will affect the VMS market, it’s clear that some categories stand to benefit more than others. Herbal & natural immune stimulants and vitamin C supplements are likely to see the biggest boost, as long as supply chains can be maintained. In certain markets, such as India and China, there is likely to be a rise in sales of country-specific natural remedies (Ayurvedic medicine and TCM) positioned for immunity support, though marketers will have to be wary of government clampdowns on products that are claimed to prevent or cure Covid-19.

For a full analysis of Covid-19’s impact on the global CHC market, pick up a copy of our all-new Hot Topic review Coronavirus 2020 and its potential impact on CHC from Nicholas Hall’s CIMA division. Buyers of this report will also receive a situation update in six months time. For more information, or to purchase your copy, please contact melissa.lee@NicholasHall.com.

Does CBG offer hope against antimicrobial resistance?

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According to a recent WHO press release, a lack of innovation in the development of new antibiotics, allied with declining private investment, is undermining efforts to combat drug-resistant infections. The breaking news from China of a sharp rise in diagnoses of an emergent strain of coronavirus, and new reported cases in Japan and Thailand, has raised fears of another outbreak similar to SARS in 2003, which infected more than 8,000 people and killed more than 700.

WHO has raised concerns about a weak pipeline for antibiotic agents, with 60 products in development (50 antibiotics and 10 biologics) that it deems bring little benefit over existing treatments and very few that target the most critical resistant bacteria (Gram-negative bacteria). However, some positive news came from an unlikely quarter over the weekend – an as yet unpublished study that found that CBG (cannabigerol) cured mice of MRSA infections as effectively as vancomycin, a drug widely considered to be the last line of defence against drug-resistant microbes.

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One of our recent blogs looked at the potential of a new emerging class of cannabinoids beyond CBD – including CBG, CBN (cannabinol) and CBC (cannabichromene) – and this new study boosts the attractiveness of the cannabinoid industry even further. Eric Brown, the microbiologist who led the research at McMaster University said cannabinoids were “clearly great drug-like compounds”, but noted it was early days in assessing the compounds for use in the clinic.

Brown found that CBG and other cannabinoids did not work well against gram negative multi-drug resistant bugs. However, the study shows that when CBG is used along with small quantities of polymyxin B, an existing antibiotic that targets “the cytoplasmic membrane of Gram-positive bacteria”, the cannabis compound wiped out the drug-resistant pathogens. “We are now pursuing the required paperwork to work with a wide variety of cannabinoids,” Brown said.

What is the current regulatory status of CBD in global markets? Find out in Nicholas Hall’s upcoming report, CBD 2020: The 20 Most Important Questions about CBD in the Future of CHC! You can also read about the main challenges faced by CBD players, the current and forecast size of the market, and much more! Pre-order your copy before 30 January to save with the pre-publication discounted rate! To find out more, or purchase your copy, please contact melissa.lee@NicholasHall.com.

Focus on China: Trade agreement with USA imminent?

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Some welcome news for the global economy which broke over the weekend, as announced by the US trade representative, is that the US and China are “close to finalising some sections” of an interim agreement to ease trade tensions between the two countries. This is also a welcome development for OTC marketers, including RB, whose newly-appointed CEO Laxman Narasimhan recently stated that the company’s disappointing Q3 performance was primarily due to issues in USA and China.

Growth in China’s OTC market slowed to 5.3% in the MAT Q2 2019 period, owing to a low key cough & cold season and a weakening economy. Nicholas Hall was a speaker at the Global Self-Care Federation (GCSF) conference – a joint meeting of the Chinese, Asian and global CHC associations, held in Beijing last week – and wrote: “It is always valuable to come to the second-largest CHC market, which in just a few years will be the world’s biggest economy. There are major opportunities here, but increasing challenges too as the Government takes a tougher line on pricing and distribution, without easing the regulatory barriers.”

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Judy Stenmark kicked off proceedings at the GSCF 2019 conference

Nicholas Hall also wrote that: “Among the many presentations during the 2 days, some of which lasted for as little as 15 minutes – this was truly a conveyor belt conference, with only one panel discussion and no questions from the floor – a presentation that stood out for me was from Conba, a company about which I knew very little. Hu Jiqiang, Chairman of Conba Group, made the startling claim that Conba will become the biggest producer of medical cannabis in China and possibly the world … And, of course, the presentation by Alibaba Health was one to sit up and listen to at the end of an exhausting two days. This really is a game-changing company as I discuss in my New Paradigms report.

The rise of Chinese marketers within the global OTC rankings has been a notable trend in 2019. Our latest MAT Q2 2019 data shows that China Resources 999 now takes 9th position globally, and grew by 7.3% in the year to end-June 2019. Additionally, as explored in one of our recent blog posts, By-Health has broken into the global Top 20 and now claims 15th spot. This company has bucked the trend of decelerating growth in China, with sales growing by 31% in MAT Q2 2019. China accounts for over 90% of By-Health’s OTC portfolio turnover, with Australia accounting for the remainder.

Some of the latest innovations and technologies impacting CHC will be at the forefront of the agenda at next month’s OTC.NewDirections Executive Conference, which will take place in London on 14 November, with speakers from key players including Mundipharma, J&J and Bayer. Please contact jennifer.odonnell@NicholasHall.com to book your place or find out more. If you are unable to join us, you can always view Nicholas’ opening address live at 09:05 GMT here

Alibaba and Walmart report strong Q2

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Our blog this week rounds up the latest retail news, including recent Q2 results from Walmart and Alibaba, and a focus on M&A activity in Asia-Pacific. China’s Alibaba trumped analysts’ expectations with a 42% year-on-year jump in quarterly revenues to Rmb114.92bn (US$16.3bn), contrasting with its rival Tencent which one day earlier disappointed the market by falling short with a more modest quarterly growth (though Tencent did report a 26% year-on-year increase in profit).

Alibaba’s CEO, Daniel Zhang, said the company “had a great quarter, expanding our user base to 674mn annual active consumers, and demonstrating our superior user experience. We will continue to expand our customer base, increase operating efficiency and deliver robust growth. With strong cashflow from our core e-commerce business, we will continue to invest in technology and bring digital transformation to millions of businesses globally.” 

Alibaba is also reportedly looking to acquire Kaola’s cross-border online shopping platform from rival NetEase, according to two people familiar with the matter, as China’s highly competitive US$2tn e-commerce market takes early steps towards consolidation.  

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Meanwhile, Walmart has raised its outlook for the USA and said US consumers were in “solid” financial health as it shrugged off the Trump administration’s trade war with Beijing and turmoil elsewhere in bricks-and-mortar retail. Walmart revenues rose by 1.8% in fiscal Q2 2020 to US$130bn (+2.9% on a constant currency basis). USA sales were US$85.2bn (+2.9%) and the retailer noted that it is gaining market share in key categories, including health & wellness; e-commerce sales grew by 37%. International sales fell by 1.1% to US$29.1bn (+3.3% excluding currency impacts). Strength in Mexican subsidiary Walmex and China were offset by softness in UK and Canada. 

In Brazil, No.1 drugstore chain RaiaDrogasil (RD) reported better than expected results, seeing its national share rise to 13% in Q2 2019 (up 1.6% vs Q2 2018). Another drugstore chain quickly gaining share in Brazil is Farmarcas, which looks set to become the No.4 ranked chain by end-2019 after reporting even stronger results than RD, putting pressure on established players Drogaria DPSP and Pague Menos.

As for M&A activity:

• In Japan, drugstore operator Cocokara Fine is pursuing a merger with rival Matsumotokiyoshi in a deal that could create a market leader with sales of around ¥1tn (US$9.4bn)

• Amazon, which is looking to boost its bricks & mortar presence in the fast-growing Indian market, is reportedly in advanced talks to acquire up to 10% of Future Retail, the country’s No.2 retailer

• AS Watson (an affiliate of CK Hutchison Holdings) is in talks with potential partners in UAE with a view to introducing its health & beauty stores there

Take a look at the evolution of Pharmacy and Pharmacy Point-of-Care in the Distribution chapter in our new report, Nicholas Hall’s New Paradigms for CHC 2019: Over the Horizon, written by Nicholas himself! Other chapters will include Healthcare Trends, Regulation, Digital engagement amongst many others. Nicholas will also unveil the 15 “Infinity Zones” he has identified as being crucial to the future growth of the industry. You can upgrade your purchase to include a customised in-house presentation or webinar with Nicholas for an additional GB£10,000. To find out more or to pre-order your copy, please contact melissa.lee@NicholasHall.com.

RB 2.0: E-commerce a key focus

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With CEO Rakesh Kapoor retiring at the end of the year, and ambitious plans for RB 2.0 to be implemented within the next year, this is without doubt a transformational time for RB. Nicholas Hall believes RB 2.0 will lead to the “end-point of divesting the Hygiene Home business, and with the company quickly moving on to v3.0 and a major merger. I can think of at least four CHC companies that may want to be associated with RB v3.0, not all of whom could be considered equals, but who would be attracted by a cashless transaction and the benefits of scale.” 

RB released its full year results last week, with net revenue in 2018 up by 3% on a like-for-like basis, while Health grew by 2%. Within Health, the OTC segment rose by 5%, driven by innovations (Nurofen 24-hour patch, Strepsils flurbiprofen spray) and strong regional performances (Lemsip in UK, Luftal in Brazil, Moov in India and Tempra in Mexico). As part of its RB 2.0 mission, the company is planning to “supercharge” innovation even further, focusing on new categories (i.e. the launch of brain health supplement Neuriva later in H1 2019), new consumers and new channels (i.e. MegaRed and Move Free in e-commerce outlets in China).

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In its 2018 results presentation, RB emphasised its “best-in-class digital and e-commerce capability” as a key driver behind RB 2.0 growth, highlighting the specific case of China where the company’s online sales already outweigh “offline” sales thanks to strong partnerships with the likes of Alibaba and JD.com. Innovations such as MegaRed CoQ10, Move Free Ultra and Move Free Advanced have been specially developed for the e-commerce channel in China and the USA. 

In its results, the company also reported that 9% of RB Health sales are generated in the e-commerce channel, which it says ranks second among its consumer healthcare peers, while its operating margin of 28% is way ahead of the consumer healthcare average. RB attributes its success in e-commerce to its FMCG heritage and its strong margins to the relatively high proportion of its portfolio devoted to Consumer Health vs key OTC competitors.

Nicholas Hall’s New Paradigms for CHC 2019: Over the Horizon, our upcoming new Signature Report written by Nicholas, includes a chapter dedicated to reviewing M&A within the CHC industry. Exploring recent transactions, multiples and the buyers and sellers — with predictions of likely future deals — Nicholas also asks whether M&A actually works and examines the role of private equity. An essential read for all players striving to compete in this rapidly-evolving marketplace, for the full table of contents or to pre-order your copy, please contact melissa.lee@NicholasHall.com.

 

East to power global economy in 2019

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According to the latest research from the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU), several countries in Asia-Pacific, the Middle East and Africa will produce the highest economic growth in 2019, while North America, Europe and even Latin America will lag behind. There are some exceptions to this trend (like Poland and Ireland in Europe, which are forecast to outperform the global economy in 2019) but the general picture shows that the highest GDP growth will be in the east.

Although there are concerns about the economic slowdown in China – see our blog just before Christmas and the recent letter from Apple CEO Tim Cook to investors – the country is expected to remain among the best-performing economies in 2019, with a growth forecast of 6.3%. The EIU revised up slightly its China forecast for 2019, following the agreement reached between the US and China at the G20 to delay planned tariff actions. However, it remains uncertain whether a bilateral trade deal will be reached.

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China’s troubles may actually be providing a boost to neighbouring Asia-Pacific markets, such as Vietnam, which offer an alternative manufacturing location. Also, as we’ve highlighted on the blog previously, several African markets have likewise been boosted by their growing status as manufacturing hubs, notably Kenya. As for India, it is forecast by the EIU to be among the Top 5 fastest-growing economies in 2019, continuing its strong 2018 upturn – according to the latest OTC DASHBOARD data for the MAT Q3 2018 period, India is the fastest-growing OTC market in Asia-Pacific, up 8.8%.

At the other end of the scale, key Latin American markets Venezuela and Argentina are forecast to be among the Top 5 worst-performing economies in 2019, while Mexico and Brazil are also expected to perform below par this year. However, high inflation has helped to boost OTC growth in these markets. As for Europe, several western European markets are forecast to produce low growth, while Japan, Turkey and South Africa are all expected to produce growth in the 0-2% range, with the US performing slightly better.

Join Nicholas Hall and The CHC Training Academy in Vietnam on 28 February. Focusing on the central theme of Winning Together in Consumer Health, this unique workshop will enable you to develop essential skills to succeed in the new era of collaborative partnership approaches between retailer and supplier for strengthening categories together, plus deep insights on key stakeholders. Don’t delay — book your place before 17 January to save with our generous early bird discount! To find out more, please contact elizabeth.bernos@NicholasHall.com

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