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As Germany battles a third wave of coronavirus infection, sales of OTC medicines through the country’s bricks-and-mortar and online pharmacies are lagging behind previous years, according to a recent report from Sempora Consulting GmbH.

Thanks to a particularly contagious COVID-19 variant – B117, imported from the UK – Germany’s consumers remain in lockdown, preventing its OTC market from recovering to historical levels, Sempora’s data shows.

Total pharmacy sales of OTC medicines for the first 15 weeks of 2021 were 17% lower than the previous year, and 11% lower than in 2019 (see table below).

For bricks-and-mortar pharmacies, the picture looked even bleaker, with sales 19% lower compared to 2020, and 16% lower than in 2019.

Showing that the shift towards online shopping may be here to stay, sales of OTCs through mail-order pharmacy were up 14% compared to 2019, albeit still 7% below 2020 levels.

Things do seem to be getting better, however. In the fifteenth week, total pharmacy sales returned to those seen during the same period last year.


If the anomaly of changing Easter holiday dates is accounted for, sales were probably also close to those of 2019, Sempora’s report suggests.


Drilling down into OTC categories, the most obvious winner from COVID-19 shifts in consumer behaviour are vitamin A and D supplements, both pure and in combination.

Overall, sales of vitamin A and D supplements were up 15% compared to 2020 in the first 15 weeks, Sempora found, and up 71% compared to 2019 – with mail-order sales increasing by a staggering 123%.

While this does suggest that “preventive self-medication continues to be of great importance,” as Sempora argues, the poor performance of other immunity supplements – including vitamin C – seems to also contradict this.

On a negative note, expectorants, throat pain remedies and flu remedies have all fared very badly so far this year, compared to both 2020 and 2019.

“The collapse in demand for classic cold categories has had a negative impact on the overall market,” Sempora noted.

“Structural shifts within the post-COVID OTC landscape are becoming increasingly apparent as a result of changing consumer needs and preferences,” the firm added.


Online Strategies Key

The pandemic has led to significant shifts in consumer habits, reflected in the demand for some product categories over others, Sempora noted. (German OTC Market 2021 Firms Must Adapt To New E-Commerce And Product Portfolio Realities)

As a result, consumer healthcare companies need to review their brand portfolios and reassess their strategic priorities when Germany eventually comes out of lockdown – a prospect now delayed until June at the earliest.

Pre-existing moves towards online shopping in the country’s self-medication market have also been accelerated by COVID, the company pointed out.

While mail-order pharmacies like Zur Rose and Shop Apotheke have profited from the pandemic, the bricks-and-mortar landscape is also becoming more concentrated, Sempora’s analysis reveales, with a smaller number of stronger, entrepreneurial pharmacies leveraging new digital partnerships to capture market share.

For OTC firms, it is “necessary to review the channel strategy and develop suitable concepts for each channel that take the changed patient journey into account.”

Setting the right price points to attract digital-savvy, post-pandemic consumers will be key to future success, Sempora insisted.

However, this is a complex process, it warned, which “requires taking into account the price sensitivities of consumers as well as smart margin management with pharmacy customers, both bricks-and-mortar and online.”


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