YEAST INFECTION CURES ON RISE

Supermarkets are successfully selling the cure.Sales of over-the-counter yeast infection medications are up 46.7% at food stores for the year ended Sept. 30, 1993, according to Towne-Oller & Associates, the New York-based subsidiary of Information Resources Inc., Chicago."The category is growing at a rapid rate," said Ben Cassese, director of health and beauty care, nonfood and direct-store-delivery

Supermarkets are successfully selling the cure.

Sales of over-the-counter yeast infection medications are up 46.7% at food stores for the year ended Sept. 30, 1993, according to Towne-Oller & Associates, the New York-based subsidiary of Information Resources Inc., Chicago.

"The category is growing at a rapid rate," said Ben Cassese, director of health and beauty care, nonfood and direct-store-delivery programs at Red Apple Cos., New York.

"We expect the sales increases to continue. This is almost like the common cold," he added.

Products with lower price points are partly responsible for driving the $90 million in sales at food chains for vaginal yeast infection medications, said retailers polled by SN.

In addition, improved communication about the products and better merchandising have made consumers aware of benefits.

Renee Seaman, HBC buyer at Rogers Markets, Fort Wayne, Ind., who also reported sales increases over last year, attributed the increase to products such as Mycelex-7 "that have kind of taken over the market because of their lower retails."

"Improvements in advertising and communicating to customers will result in more growth. This is a good category and a good profit center, showing positive signs for the future," said Jim Key, nonfood direct-store buyer at Community Cash Stores, Spartanburg, S.C.

At Community Cash Stores the sales trend is up slightly, according to Key. "There is enough activity to warrant additional brands. I think this will be a good growth category for the next several years," he said.

The director of HBC for a large Northeast chain, who asked not to be identified, said sales of over-the-counter yeast infection medications have been fair and look like they are getting better. He sees further growth in the category.

"Growth may not be as strong now as it was last year, but it is still growing, and we consider it to be a very good category," said Joe Sinkula, nonfood director for Haggen, Bellingham, Wash.

He explained that although sales are higher this year, the percentage of sales increase may not be as large as last year, when the sales base was smaller.

Richard Arganti, nonfood supervisor and buyer at Food Giant, Seattle, reported that sales of the category are "relatively good, a few percentage points higher than last year."

More attention has been brought to over-the-counter yeast infection medications through the news media, he said.

The nonfood director of an East Coast chain, who asked not to be identified, said sales are up. However, he said his biggest problem with the category is theft.

"Mirrors and TV cameras don't work. Manufacturers have to come up with better displays or we will have to put the product in a more secure location, and that will slow down the sales," he said.

Without exception, the retailers polled said the category is displayed in the feminine hygiene section, sometimes on the shelf, sometimes on a rack on the shelf.

"We display them on the shelf in the feminine hygiene section between douches and feminine medications," said Seaman of Rogers Markets.

The nonfood director of the East Coast chain said the products are displayed on racks on the shelf with sanitary pads and other feminine hygiene items, but the racks are not enough of a deterrent to theft.

Arganti of Food Giant said in addition to being displayed in the feminine hygiene section, the OTC yeast infection treatments are sometimes merchandised in freestanding displays at the checkouts.

Availability and having the right product mix at a fair price are key factors to merchandising this category effectively, said Cassese of Red Apple.

"When people want it, they will buy it. Price is not an issue with this item. It is important to carry the leading brand in the market and maybe one that offers an attractive price point," Cassese said.

Haggen usually includes an item from the category at a reduced price in its ad about once a quarter, Sinkula said.

The chain also has offered items in the category at a temporary price reduction over an extended time. But the chain found that ads featuring an item resulted in higher sales, he said.

The nonfood director for the East Coast chain said he prefers a temporary price reduction as a promotional tool for the category.

"We have tried advertising, but find that the TPR works the best. This is a high-ticket item. A TPR usually runs for four weeks, which is longer than the reduced price in our regular weekly ad, so the customer has the opportunity to buy the item at a lower price for a longer period of time," he said.

Arganti of Food Giant said it is important that the items be visible to customers to maximize sales.

Food Giant occasionally promotes the items in a coupon book through its warehouse. Coupons are the most effective type of promotion, he said.

Three other retailers contacted said they rarely, if ever, promote the category, but instead rely on coupons distributed by the manufacturers to stimulate sales.

While most retailers predicted expansion of the category, a few said they expected to see some brands disappear.

"If anything, there will be fewer brands in the future. There may be some new ones, but the older ones will go," said the nonfood director of the East Coast chain.

"Some of the first brands to come out for the grocery market may go by the wayside because of the higher retails. I really think a lot more lower-priced items will come out, maybe even some generic or private label," said Seaman of Rogers Markets.