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It’s All in the Delivery: The Influence of Packaged Food and Beverages on Over-the Counter (OTC) Innovation

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With formats like gummies, chews, and even “popping” confectionery such as To Go Brands’ VitaRocks, vitamin and dietary supplement (VDS) brands have long turned to food and beverage-inspired delivery mechanisms to distinguish themselves. Conversely, OTC items have been slower to follow the branding lead of other consumer packaged goods, instead focusing formulation and delivery innovation efforts on efficacy, safety, and speed of relief. A new slate of OTC products, however, reaches beyond these considerations to offer people a more unique and targeted self-treatment experience.

FirstAidShotTherapyOTCliquidshotsGlobal demographic trends are a key motivator for these shifts in OTC new product development. The burgeoning class of urban consumers increasingly recognizes the value of OTC self-care, but convenience is paramount, and manufacturers are responding. In the UK, for example, Reckitt Benckiser introduced Gaviscon Instants in 2012. The product contains the same active pharmaceutical ingredients (APIs)—sodium alginate, sodium bicarbonate, and calcium carbonate—as existing liquid and tablet versions of the heartburn remedy, but in the form of single-dose sachets of quick-dissolving, tropical fruit-flavoured oral powder. Kalbe Farma’s Komix DT in Indonesia also provides busy and stressed individuals with a portable, on-the-go treatment option. The dextromethorpan-based cough remedy comes in one-dose liquid sachets. Similarly, ASCOF’s Lagundi Syrup Sachets in the Philippines are a pre-measured, packable variation of the herbal/traditional cough remedy, with different dosages and flavours for children and adults.

While these products incorporate consumers’ desire for drug formats that fit in a pocket or purse and do not require special dosage instruments or water to consume, their presentation is not quite analogous to that of a soft drink or a chocolate bar. GlaxoSmithKline’s Tums Freshers in the US, on the other hand, goes further to bridge this divide. The heartburn drug (calcium carbonate) tablets are 40% smaller than standard Tums and are packaged, flavoured, and positioned like breath mints. As heartburn sufferers frequently cite bad breath as a concomitant side effect, many retailers are stocking the brand both in the digestive remedy aisle and by the register, alongside other “impulse buy” mint and chewing gum brands. Cafosa, a Spanish subsidiary of Mars/Wrigley, is banking on the potential of an OTC confectionery format as well. The company’s Health in Gum excipient is a powdered gum base specially formulated for combination with an API. Although OTC medicated chewing gum already exists, most notably in nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) smoking cessation aids and motion sickness remedies, it is not particularly common because it is difficult to manufacture and make palatable. Cafosa claims that Health in Gum simplifies this process, offering producers an easy and affordable opportunity to revitalize mature brands.

An even more novel OTC product in the US takes its delivery concept directly from the world of energy shots. The Goody’s Headache Relief Shot from Prestige Brands, launched in June 2013, contains an individual dose of an analgesic (acetaminophen and caffeine) in the form of a 60ml bottle of citrus- or berry-flavoured liquid. The packaging, which prominently advertises the product’s “fast acting” formula, is very reminiscent of an energy shot such as 5-Hour Energy. Considering the latter brand generated over US$1 billion in sales in 2012, making it the fourth-ranked consumer health brand in the world despite only operating in the US market, it makes sense that Prestige would want to follow its example. Moreover, the Goody’s shot is a more intuitive format than OTC powder and liquid sachets, but still addresses consumers’ demand for rapid symptom relief that fits seamlessly into their lives.

The target audience for the soon-to-be-launched US OTC brand First Aid Shot Therapy (F.A.S.T.) is similarly focused on “immediate gratification or benefit.” The line, which will initially include an analgesic and a digestive remedy, comes in the form of liquid shots in highly stylized, metallic-like 40ml bottles. The design’s resemblance to a standard beverage is not incidental. Inspired by her years of experience as an executive at The Coca-Cola Co, F.A.S.T.’s founder and chief executive officer Mary Page Platerink sought to combine the Food and Drug Administration (FDA)-mandated clinical rigor of an OTC with “all of the magic of the packaged goods industry.” Thus, flavour and mouth feel were as critical a part of the formulation process as efficacy, which presented significant challenges. As Platerink notes, “getting good-tasting liquid is preeminent, [but] that doesn’t always work with every API.” The product development team eventually decided on a berry flavour for the analgesic and a ginger and peppermint flavour with a “slightly indulgent” chocolate note for the digestive formula. This combination of taste and package design lets consumers “experience a brand,” while simultaneously getting the symptom relief they expect from a more traditional OTC drug, an opportunity Platerink believes is currently lacking in the US OTC space. As private label utilization continues to rise, she may be correct that delivery innovation is a salient strategy for making branded OTCs stand out.

Ultimately, consumers seeking to self-treat with an OTC product want something that works and works quickly. Brand engagement is quite arguably a secondary concern, meaning novel OTCs cannot afford to sacrifice efficacy in an effort to present a more pleasant consumption experience. Additionally, the price differential between standard and unique delivery formats can be substantial. The Goody’s Headache Relief Shot, for example, currently retails for US$7.00 for two bottles (two doses) on amazon.com.  As a remedy to keep on hand if needed, this may be prohibitively expensive. Still, for the “instant gratification” crowd, this may be less important; the ability to walk into a store and grab a shot, confectionery item, or other OTC product easy to take on-the-go could be just what the doctor ordered.

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