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.

Amazon BC

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.

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Flu Trends: USA, UK seeing 2018 spike

Though it’s difficult to build a comprehensive picture of flu trends across the globe, reports suggest that January 2018 has seen a spike in flu activity in North America and Europe. In its full-year 2017 results, J&J also cited growth for its upper respiratory category as one of the trends underpinning a 3.7% rise (+2.6% organically) for its OTC division in 2017. This included strong Q4 growth for its CCA brands in the Asia-Pacific region, suggesting that cold & flu activity is robust across the northern hemisphere.

According to reports, the US is in the grip of its strongest cough, cold & flu season for almost a decade. In mid-January, Brenda Fitzgerald, Director of the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, said: “We are currently in the midst of a very active flu season. With much of the country experiencing widespread and intense flu activity … so far this season, influenza A, H3N2, has been the most common form of influenza. These viruses are often linked to more severe illness, especially among children and people age 65 and older. When H3 viruses are predominant, we tend to have a worse flu season with more hospitalizations and more deaths. While our surveillance systems show that nationally the flu season may be peaking now, we know from past experience that it will take many more weeks for flu activity to truly slow down.”

As the chart above shows, the percentage of US patients visiting their doctor with ILI (influenza-like illness) has peaked sharply in late 2017 / early 2018, reaching levels not seen since the 2009-10 flu season. Similarly, in the UK, reports suggest this has been the worst flu season for seven years – since the 2010-11 swine flu epidemic – with doctors visits for suspected flu rising sharply in certain parts of the country (in Wales, they recorded a fourfold increase to 64.9 cases per 100,000).

As we make our way through Q4 2017 results season, we’ll keep a close eye on how this spike in flu activity is reflected in the CCA performance of various OTC marketers, though it may be that we have to wait until the Q1 2018 results come in to see the full effect of this trend.

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, 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.

Q3 2017: Global OTC growth stays at 4.7%

According to the latest figures published by Nicholas Hall’s global OTC sales database DB6, the OTC market maintained 4.6% growth in MAT Q3 2017. Commenting on the results, DB6 VP Celine Waller said: “Russia remained the fastest-growing leading market, though its growth slowed slightly compared to MAT Q2 2017 (+17.3%). Brazil and Turkey (+13.1%) also both achieved double-digit growth. Growth in the US increased marginally, with an improved performance in cough & cold offset by continued weakness in gastrointestinals and dermatologicals. France and Australia (-0.7%) remained in decline – France owing to the poor performance of the large OTx sector and reverse switch of some cough ingredients, and Australia driven by a slowdown in demand from Chinese consumers buying VMS products for resale in China (daigou or ‘suitcase entrepreneurs’).”


Though OTC growth remains high in many of the Emerging Markets, the established markets of North America, Japan (+0.6%) and western Europe – notably Germany (+1.8%), France (-1.2%), Italy (+2.0) and UK (+1.7%) – remain relatively flat. Innovative Rx-to-OTC switches, such as the UK MHRA’s recent approval of the POM-to-P reclassification of Viagra Connect, or the emergence of new OTC categories, such as e-cigarettes or medical cannabis, offer the most promising route back to growth for many of these established OTC markets.

Nicholas Hall said: “Q3 data confirms 4.6% as the baseline for CHC growth, and frankly it’s not good enough!! Only the sleepiest or most risk-averse companies will accept competing in a market where growth is only modestly ahead of inflation + higher population. That is why the first serious step by Pfizer to switch Viagra is so important. Since we made our first detailed review of the ED category for a Big Pharma client exactly 5 years ago, we have been convinced that Viagra is potentially the world’s largest consumer health brand. Some might say that it already is, although that would be true only for the use of the Viagra brand name on the internet as most of the blue pills sold in that channel are not from Pfizer. As a legitimate CHC category, and with recreational use included — which Big Pharma companies dislike as they see ED brands as treatments — the overall CHC reproductive health category, including ED brands, condoms, oral contraceptives, EHC and conception products and diagnostics, could easily reach sales of US$20bn at MSP in all channels of distribution.”

Hollywog unveils smartphone-controlled pain device


As revealed by our recently published MAT Q2 2017 info, global sales of topical analgesics (+8.2%) fast outpaced systemic analgesics (+3.8%), owing to higher levels of product innovation. This trend was particularly noticeable in North America, where sales of topical analgesics were up 16.2% in the year to end-June 2017.

One specific area of dynamism has been topical pain relief devices, specifically TENS machines, with a variety of smaller marketers and established OTC players launching such products in recent years. For example, Bayer launched TENS device Aleve Direct Therapy in summer 2016.

The innovation stakes have now been raised higher with the launch of a smartphone-controlled TENS device by US marketer Hollywog. The WiTouch Pro Bluetooth TENS Therapy device is paired with the WiTouch Pro App to provide stimulation pain therapy to the lower back.


According to Chuck Thomas, CEO of Hollywog: “This launch signals an important innovation for Hollywog, where our new patented pain management solution, the WiTouch Pro, offers a drug-free digitally-enabled alternative to block pain and keep moving. People are looking for a discrete solution that is personalised for their pain and with this launch we deliver on that need.”

This trend is likely to accelerate, with marketers like Purdue Pharma already looking at how to deliver pain therapy via smartwatches too.

Voice-activated tech shows potential for diabetes care


Diabetes affects 422mn people worldwide, including 14% of the US adult population and people in low and middle-income countries such as China, India, Brazil and Indonesia. To successfully manage diabetes, people living with it need to be mindful of and track myriad things throughout their day, from blood sugar levels to counting calories. In recent years voice-activated technologies have become an important way of helping sufferers manage their disease.

In this regard, Danish pharmaceutical company, Novo Nordisk, has teamed up with Health Innovation Technology Lab (HITLAB) to launch the 2017 HITLAB World Cup of Voice-Activated Technology in Diabetes, awarding prizes totalling US$75,000.


Participating innovators have been told to focus on enhancing patient outcomes, lowering healthcare costs and making the management of patients more efficient, with the goal of improving health and quality of life for diabetes sufferers.

Amy West, Senior Director, Patient Centric Marketing & Digital Health at Novo Nordisk commented: “We are constantly striving to provide solutions that minimise the burden for people living with diabetes, and believe that digital health, and specifically voice-activated technologies can be important tools for managing diabetes.”


HITLAB has helped leading organisations create and evaluate technology-based solutions to pressing healthcare challenges for the past 25 years. Last year, 74 teams from 14 countries presented technology innovations that ranged from a tech-enabled dynamic scoliosis brace to a tool that uses 3D imaging and data analytics to better diagnose ear infections. Past winners have since raised over US$50mn in follow-on investment funding.

The submission period is currently open and will close on Wednesday 11th October. Finalists will be announced on 23rd October. They will make pitches at the HITLAB Innovators Summit, which will be held in New York City. Pitches will be judged by a panel of healthcare experts assigned by Novo Nordisk and HITLAB.

OTC hearing aids: Awaiting US Senate vote


Cheaply priced reading glasses have long been available to buy without prescription in supermarkets and pharmacies. While there is an available OTC product for some living with farsightedness, there is still yet to be an approved inexpensive over-the-counter equivalent for those living with mild-to-moderate hearing loss.

Medicare and most private insurance plans in the US do not cover prescription hearing aids, which cost around $2,400 for one device. Owing to this, it is thought that many people with hearing loss go without hearing aids because they cannot afford the devices.

This could be changing soon, as the House of Representatives has passed legislation that would create a new class of hearing aids that could be sold OTC.


“We get inquiries every day from people who cannot afford hearing aids,” said Nancy Macklin, a spokeswoman for the Hearing Loss Association of America. According to a 2016 study from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering & Medicine, just 14% of those with hearing loss use a hearing aid.

While there are several types of less expensive non-prescription personal sound amplification devices on the market, the devices are not regulated by any government entity for safety or quality standards and are used to aid people with normal hearing but wish to amplify sound.

Recent advances in technology have made the concept of less-expensive, OTC hearing aids very possible. The potential switch is part of the FDA Reauthorization Act of 2017, which the House passed Wednesday with a voice vote. The bill received widespread bipartisan support, but the Senate has yet to announce a timeline for holding a vote on the bill.

The arrival of OTC hearing aids can’t come soon enough for an ageing population that is continually growing. As Baby Boomers age and Generation X hits middle age, the number of people with mild to moderate hearing loss is increasing rapidly.