Meet five trends in over the counter medicines

From krill oil to melatonin, more people are wandering down the OTC aisle to stay fit...and get some sleep!

Royalty-Free Stock Photography by

As cold and flu season deepens, Canadians will inevitably spend more time in the over-the-counter aisles. For grocers, it’s important to be in stock and ready to answer questions.

But over-the-counter is becoming a strong category any time of year. The reason: Consumers are paying more attention to their health.

READ: Getting ‘clean’ in 2014

Vitamins, supplements and digestive remedies are showing up more often in their shopping baskets. Meanwhile, Canada’s giant baby boomer demographic is aging. They’ve simply got more ailments to treat.

No wonder consumer health products are doing so well. Sales are expected to rise 3%, to $4.5 billion, in Canada this year, according to Euromonitor International. Within those billions, certain trends are happening. Flip to the next page to learn about the Top 5 trends in OTC today.

The return of name brands: Private label, always big in food, has made inroads into over-the-counter in recent years. But now Canadians appear to be returning to name-brand medicines. That’s despite several product recalls this year by major manufacturers, including Novartis. “There has been a switch back to branded products, especially if there is only one dollar or two between that and private label,” says Alfred Loy from Yonge Pharmacy in Toronto.

Euromonitor research shows that, in particular, children’s cough and cold is growing with “innovation and multi-symptom and combination” lines driving sales. With new brands entering the market, such as Stopain, sales of topical analgesics are also going up. That’s because consumers are looking for alternatives to prescription medicines, which can often come with side effects.

More natural, but extra power too, please: Over-the-counter medicines don’t usually pack the punch that prescription drugs do. Regardless, consumers now expect everyday OTC products to do a lot more, and fast. “Consumers are moving more to OTC to cure minor alignments. They want to see quick yet long-term results,” says Svetlana Uduslivaia, who works with Euromonitor.

Celebrity endorsements are also influencing OTC sales. Krill Oil, for instance, has gotten favourable press on TV from the likes of Dr. Oz. As a result, krill oil is today’s must-have nutritional product and the darling of the Omega 3 family.

READ: Grocers take shot at providing flu vaccine

But consumers also want OTC products with more natural ingredients. For example, more people are opting for melatonin in place of a conventional OTC or any other form of prescription sleep aid.

A quest for sleep and extra energy: A 2011 study from Laval University found 40% of Canadians suffer from a sleep disorder. That explains why calming and sleeping products accounted for the biggest surge in OTC last year, with sales up 11%.

Less sleep, of course, means more illness. So it’s no wonder there has been a spike in immune health products, such as echinacea and vitamins C and D. “People want to stay healthy and prevent illness from interrupting their busy lives,” says Karen Whiskin, category management lead at Toronto’s Jamieson Laboratories.

Canadians are also turning to metabolism boosters. Sales are strong in protein powders, bars and liquids. Products with melatonin and vitamin B12 are in demand. And consumers are seeking “wholesome” ingredients in OTC lines.

Some help for getting older: Manufacturers are targeting Canada’s aging boomer population with gusto. “The OTC category will become more sophisticated with an emphasis on chronic care, such as pain relievers,” predicts Gerry Harrington, of Ottawa-based Consumer Health Products Canada.

One area that manufacturers are paying more attention to is cholesterol control. Earlier this year, Cardioviva introduced what was billed as the first patented probiotic supplement for cholesterol control in Canada. Euromonitor anticipates growth also in common aging lines, including eye care, digestive remedies and analgesics.

READ: What to avoid in the grocery store

New ways and formats to take medicine: Vitamins and dietary supplements are two of the biggest-selling health-care categories. Growth has been steady and sales this year are expected to rise nearly 3%, according to Euromonitor.

But vitamins are no longer only sold in pill form. Jamieson’s Karen Whiskin says new formats, such as powders, drink mixes and gummies, are influencing sales. “There has been an influx of gender- and age-specific formulations.”

Nowadays, consumers are quick to change product formats whenever it suits them, as exemplified by the switch back to traditional probiotic supplements from yogurt with probiotics. “Convenience is a key factor especially for consumers on the go,” Uduslivaia says.