DEERFIELD, Ill. — Many medical experts report that, when it comes to the flu, the last couple of seasons have been significantly lower in number of cases thanks to COVID-19 safety measures, such as masking up, social distancing and lockdowns. Now some medical and health experts are saying that there is a lot of uncertainty about the 2021-2022 influenza season, and they are warning the public that there could be a very difficult flu season ahead.
That’s why many drug chains, such as Walgreens, are closely monitoring the situation to try to stay a step ahead.
“We are watching the market closely and pivoting as consumer demand shifts,” says Andrea Collaro, senior director of health and wellness owned brands at Walgreens. She notes that despite the recent strong off-season Flu/Cold/Respiratory Activity Notification (FAN) trend, it could be similar to the 2020 season, driven by headwinds resulting from COVID-19. The chain expects social distancing, mask wearing, hand sanitizing and cleaning practices to continue as schools and businesses adapt. “Walgreens also offers convenient ways to shop, including pickup in as little as 30 minutes and same-day delivery in as little as one hour.”
Collaro expects customers to continue to keep prevention top of mind. “Consumers are looking for products that will support their immune system, so categories like immunity will be popular with COVID-19 and flu season approaching. We have expanded our assortment in owned brand with the launch of our Walgreens Black Elderberry Gummies. In addition, we expect our shoppers to continue to need core items such as cold/flu relief products and humidifiers, all at a value. The Walgreens brand offers hundreds of solutions to meet our consumer needs for the season. Our pharmacists are always available for our patients if they have questions about the right products for their loved ones.”
She points out that the impact of COVID-19 has resulted in a change in the customer mindset and the need for self-care and total well-being is more important than ever before. “To combat emotional strain, the use of at-home products as coping mechanisms has gained new focus. Our Walgreens brand can seize the opportunity to connect day-to-day routines to improved wellness by positioning recovery and relief as key pillars of self-care.
For example, customers are turning to nontraditional over-the-counter and at-home remedies, such as vitamins and household products, with more of a preventative mindset as opposed to the traditionally reactive response to illness. Learned habits during the pandemic have helped reduce incidences of illness, and people are continuing to build preventative habits that reduce the spread of germs, including mask wearing, hand washing, using sanitizer, social distancing and self-isolating when sick.”
Collaro adds that social media also plays a role in self-care. “Although coughs and colds tend to be something that needs immediate attention, it’s possible for a product to gain quick traction with consumers across social channels. A few years ago, we observed the power of the social media community with a customer’s organic Facebook post on Elderberry extract which received almost a million shares in a month. We engage with our customers across marketing channels to make sure they know what solutions are available to them, how they can find it quickly and how to purchase in a convenient way that meets their needs, whether that’s a visit to our store, same-day delivery, curbside pickup or shipped to home from Walgreens.com,” she explains.
Collaro notes that the company’s in-store merchandising is set with navigational queues to help our consumers find what they are looking for based on their needs, whether that is treating an acute symptom or looking for prevention support items like immunity. “Our owned brand items are positioned such that we make it very easy to compare ingredients against national brands and see the savings.”
She says that cough/cold sales could be increased by targeting people coming in for flu shots. “The patient mindset for someone who is receiving a flu shot to avoid getting sick aligns with the preventative mentality that has been adopted by many consumers. In the past, we have given out coupons to consumers coming in for flu shots. We make sure our consumers know the Walgreens brand offers thousands of solutions to meet all their family needs that are of great quality, pharmacist recommended and a strong everyday value.”
She adds that Walgreens is constantly communicating with suppliers to optimize sales. “Transparency and upfront alignment with suppliers will lead to optimal sales. We are partnering with our owned brand suppliers by sharing forecasts, discussing trends and aligning on finished goods so that suppliers are clear on our needs, as well as how we will pivot as consumer needs evolve,” she concludes.