Vitamins Performance during Covid-19

The unprecedented events of the past few months have changed the face of community pharmacy in Ireland. With over 80 branches across the country, totalhealth has seen the impact on many different types of pharmacy businesses, from high-street locations to community-based stores.

The overall trends in retail pharmacy have been very much a mixed bag. While some pharmacies reflected results experienced in many retail sectors – declining sales and reduced footfall – other pharmacy locations have maintained good retail sales by adapting their merchandising and product offering. All pharmacies have had to deal with increased investment in protective equipment along with dramatically changing consumer behaviour. Despite the crisis, pharmacies across the country kept their doors open and their patients and customers looked after.

Continuing to provide for patient needs has required significant changes to our ways of working, with each other and with those who visit the pharmacy. To minimise risk to our staff and patients, various steps were taken, including refitting pharmacies with protective barriers and screens, reducing stock-holding on the shop floor to allow for safe movement of customers and staff, and limiting the number of customers in the pharmacy at any one time. This obviously led to a reduction in browsing, impulse-purchases and customer self-selection. Key to our strategy in protecting sales while continuing to meet consumers’ needs was supporting our pharmacies with category management, product placement, customer communications, point of sale, and social media activity.

Pharmacy teams worked hard to ensure customers and patients could obtain the products they needed and wanted, despite the restrictions in browsing. Continuous refreshment of windows, signage and product-focus areas was essential throughout the lockdown.

The changing needs of customers and patients, of course, required the sourcing of new products with extremely short time-lines. In the early days of the Covid-19 crisis, demand rocketed for infection-prevention products, which totalhealth moved quickly to source for our members. Pharmacy teams were challenged with stockpiling and wholesaler disruptions. Despite difficult GSL sales, sales of OTC products grew during the first months of the pandemic, with increases on last year of as much as 40% in some areas. Some of the strongest performances, however, have been seen in the vitamins and supplements categories.

With the immense amount of media being circulated and consumed, customers were no doubt influenced by the various reports of supplements theorised to increase protection against Covid-19. Demand for immune-support products increased dramatically, originally centred around vitamin C, zinc, and probiotics, but expanding to products with anti-viral claims, like the A. Vogel range and Sambucol. Sales of vitamin D products also grew rapidly, potentially due to increased time being spent indoors. Such sales spiked in March and April, and while some brands encountered out-of-stocks due to increased demand, other suppliers were able to fill the gap. totalhealth realised early that flexibility in supply options was essential to ensure a continuous service to the consumer. Complications due to wholesaler restrictions meant that suppliers who were able to deliver direct to pharmacy picked up new business.

While sales of immune-related products boomed, alongside the PPE-driven categories, other sub-sections of the vitamins and supplements category suffered. With virtually no customers flying, sitting exams, completing driving tests, or commuting to work, sales of sleep, stress and travel products declined. Despite the good weather early in the crisis, sun care sales were flat with only a small number of brands showing good performances. An early hay fever season didn’t prevent a hit to sales of allergy products in early March and April, though this category has rebounded well in more recent months. Interestingly, digestive aids, including products like BioKult and Alflorex, have performed well during the crisis, potentially due to the established links between gut health and overall immunity.

As the country opens back up and people gradually return to work, several products supporting energy and immunity standout, including Revive and Pharmaton among others. May and June have seen ranges return to full stock as pharmacies returned layouts and stock-holding to a new normal. Consumer stockpiling has slowed and sales in some early booming categories have begun to return to near-normal.

totalhealth pharmacies have performed extremely well during this crisis by responding quickly to changing restrictions while ensuring ease of access for customers. totalhealth members were supported with local demands by a reactive support office team, willing to source new lines quickly and regularly. Pharmacy teams were able to provide the necessary flexibility to customers and patients in the form of adapted opening hours, increased ordering options and delivery services, meaning footfall and overall sales have held up well. The challenge of managing our pharmacies in a way that is respectful to the safety and wellbeing of staff and customers was achieved, by offering the same, great customer service and access to pharmacist expertise while minimising risk, and this shows in the feedback from our patients and in our business results.

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