LITTLE ROCK, Ark. -- This year's cough and cold season has been nothing to sneeze at, in light of the extensive recall of many popular cold and weight loss remedies containing phenylpropanolamine (PPA), according to retailers and wholesalers.
After the Food and Drug Administration issued a public health advisory against PPA-containing weight loss and cold remedies last November, due to the possible health risk of hemorrhagic strokes, retailers scrambled to remove the products from their shelves. The swift move resulted in gaping holes on store shelves. But, a high number of cold incidences in February and a rise in sales of alternative remedies have compensated for the product loss, said retailers polled by SN.
"The PPA recall hasn't hurt our sales, but it created an unbelievable amount of work for everyone involved," said Jimmy Briggs, general merchandise and health and beauty buyer for Affiliated Foods, based here.
"It's been a mess, but the consumer has found other items to purchase, and we've done a decent job on keeping up inventory of the products left."
He said sales have picked up on items like Alka-Seltzer Plus Cold Liqui-Gels, manufactured by Bayer, Morris Township, N.J., after the highly popular Alka-Seltzer Plus Effervescent cough and cold products were voluntarily discontinued by retailers.
A buyer for a Northeast-based retailer said, "We've done terrifically [in cough and cold remedy sales] in the past four weeks, mainly because of high incidence. We took a big hit with the PPA recall, but the segment has been up significantly." He cited Aleve Cold and Sinus, a Bayer-produced remedy that rolled out last August, as the top performer.
Homeopathic cold remedies like Zicam, manufactured by Gel Tech, Woodland Hills, Calif., have also sold increasingly well in the wake of the PPA recall, as well as vitamin C and the herbal supplement Echinacea, according to Briggs.
"I think these products do help with [cutting] the duration of a cold," he said.
The Northeast-based buyer agreed. "Homeopathic medications have made a real resurgence."
Linda Taylor, health and beauty buyer for Sherm's Thunderbird Supermarkets, Medford, Ore., attributed a slight slowdown in sales to the PPA recall. "It didn't hurt our sales" in a major way, she said. The retailer's Western Family private label cold remedies have picked up the sales slack, most notably caused by the absence of Alka-Seltzer Plus Effervescent cough and cold products.
Harding's Markets, Plainwell, Mich., has seen a sales slump, according to Jeri Roggelien, general merchandise and health and beauty merchandiser.
"Sales have been down because we had to pull items," she said. "People are either leery of what they are taking, or very loyal to those products pulled." She said sales have increased in the past few weeks because of cold weather and the placement of reformulated non-PPA versions of some products that were previously pulled, such as Dimetapp cough and cold products, produced by Whitehall-Robins Healthcare, Madison, N.J.
New and innovative cold-related items like Abreva cold sore treatment, produced by Glaxo SmithKline, Pittsburgh, and vapor patch adhesives, such as Triaminic Vapor Patch Cough Suppressants, manufactured by Novartis Consumer Health, Summit, N.J., sold well, according to retailers.
Briggs said, "The vapor patches have well outpaced [the previous launch] of the Triaminic soft chews from two years ago."
Despite the challenges retailers faced this cough and cold season, Briggs said sales have been on par from last season.