Diplomatic Immunity

Retailers hunt for the right place on shelves for preventative vitamin products.

By  Abbey Lewis, Executive Editor

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You could call them vitamins. You could call them cold remedies. You could even call them energy boosters. But that doesn’t necessarily mean you’d be able to find products such as Emergen-C and Airborne in any of those categories within the merchandising footprint of the convenience store.

And while the vitamin and nutrition category last year experienced a doubledigit increase, many retailers are still struggling to figure out where exactly these products belong.

“In food, drug and mass, [these products] are doing quite well, and they’re typically placed with the cold remedies,” says Andy Batt, vice president of merchandising of OTP, HBC and supplies for Naperville, Ill.-based Eby-Brown. “It’s kind of tricky because food, drug and mass have much more space than we have.”

And they have a much quicker turnaround, according to Tom LaManna, vice president of merchandising services for Melrose Park, Ill.-based Convenience Valet. “Introducing products into the c-store isn’t a quick process. It’s not like Walgreens that switches their products every two weeks. Once you take up shelf space, it’s not that easy to introduce replacement items, and no one wants to do it often.”

With that limited shelf space, finding the perfect fit can be difficult. Because both Airborne and Emergen-C are available through c-store HBC repackagers Convenience Valet and Cedar Rapids, Iowa-based Lil’ Drug Store Products, they come in two-count peg packages that are merchandised easily within HBC, but also at the point of purchase.

“What happens is that we have Emergen-C that is just dissolvable into water; Airborne has something very similar, but they also have a tablet that dissolves into water, but they also have chewables … and that gets confusing as well,” Batt says. “We do our SmartProcess custom plano-grams for chains, and then annually we do different categories each year. Both brands make the cut in a large 8-foot set, but neither makes the cut in a 3- or 4-foot set. It varies.”

On a broader level, the issue of c-store shopper habits also comes in to play. C-stores arguably attract customers that are looking for immediate gratification, not necessarily preventative medicine. Have a headache? Buy some pain reliever. A cold? Grab some cough suppressants. It’s not every day a customer wanders into a c-store looking to prevent an impending runny nose or cough. This could explain why manufacturers notice stronger sales as the colder months approach.

“We do experience a seasonal increase in usage [of Emergen-C] during times when our consumers are looking for added immune support, such as the onset of the fall and winter season,” says Eddie Moye, spokesman for New York-based Pfizer.

“We all know that people go to c-stores for immediate need. They go in if they have a headache. They don’t go in to replenish their medicine cabinet. Not necessarily for maintenance items, anyway,” LaManna says. However, “the thing about vitamins in the stay-well category is that the feeling of an impending cold can hit you at any time.”

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