Why the 2018–19 Flu Season Requires a Targeted Approach For OTC

There’s no denying the 2017–18 flu season was bad. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports approximately 80,000 people of all ages died last season. That’s just the tip of the iceberg. If you look at symptomatic illness, medical visits and hospitalizations, the number was considerably higher in 2017–18 than it was at the peak of any of the past five flu seasons. (Figure 1)

Granted, there were some factors that lead to last year being so bad including the concern the flu vaccine was not a good match for the strain of viruses circulating and an earlier start and a longer run of the season as a whole.

Not to play on anyone’s misery, but with the brutal flu season last year, it was a good year to be selling flu symptom relief. With approximately 1 in 6 Americans being affected by the illness, odds are pretty good some form of OTC flu relief would be needed.

The over-the-counter market for cold and flu remedies is a multi-billion-dollar business. The cough, cold, flu season represents a good chunk of annual revenue for many OTC companies. In fact, cough/cold products, nasal decongestants, and sore throat remedies make up over 22% of the global OTC market. That sector saw more than 5% growth in 2017. A rate higher than any other sector.

Understanding what’s at stake, it’s important for OTC cold and flu symptom relief manufacturers to be calculated about the when, where and how of marketing their products. Not having enough product on the shelves when the demand is high or running advertisements in an area where flu activity is low could be costly. Having the right information to help understand illness trends can make or break a season.

Forecasting national flu and allergies trends up to 15 weeks out with 85%+ accuracy is something Sickweather® has been doing for a while. Adding to that arsenal, the company now provides market-level forecasts for influenza for 50 cities — with more in development.

Why is this level of detail important? It’s all about the season.

For the 2018–19 flu season, nationally, Sickweather predicts activity will gain strength starting the week of Thanksgiving with a steady increase until the first peak of the season the second week of January 2019.

With what appears to be a better match of the vaccine to the strains of flu expected to circulate and hopefully a good vaccine uptake, Sickweather expects to see less illness this season than last. Additionally, it’s expected most activity will be spread out over Q1 as a “dome” rather than “peak”.

The later, less intense season means manufacturers and marketers of OTC flu relief products will be competing more intensely as the sales window will be limited to Q1 for most areas of the country and the number of people in need of remedies will also be less.

With the bulk of the season predicted to be consolidated into the 12 weeks from Week 2–14, competition for sales will be intense during that period. To assist with OTC planning, placement and sales, marketers can benefit from a more detailed, market-level forecast. This provides focus on where the flu activity is occurring so that population estimates of influenza illness can be derived by locations.

For example, if the market-level forecast shows flu only lingering into April in the Midwest, then sales will not be significantly impacted by the flu in Q2. The difference is highlighted when you consider the population of the New York or Philadelphia market being at the tail end of the season versus Kansas City being at the end. Having the data to help ensure resources are in the right place at the right time can have a considerable impact on seasonal sales totals.

Market-level forecasting offers the ability to make targeted decisions regarding the placement of marketing efforts, advertising and products to ensure supply meets demand. Companies armed with this information hold the advantage over those who may be left waving the white tissue in the war on the flu.

To request a demo of our market-level flu predictions, visit http://enterprise.sickweather.com/resources/signup/

References:

https://www.cdc.gov/flu/about/burden/ https://www.iqvia.com/blogs/2018/02/the-cold-and-flu-conundrum-getting-it-right