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Australian Journal of Pharmacy : October 2006
allergy Allergies: where the solution generates the returns People with allergies, particularly hay fever, rely on pharmacies for advice and medication, but are they getting what they need? MEGAN HAGGAN reports that improving customer support improves returns on the category T HE allergy section is underdeveloped in pharmacy, with many customers not understanding their condition, phar- macists and pharmacy assistants not making the most of their roles as advisors, and many pharmacies failing to treat allergy as a problem requiring a health solution. ‘Allergy as a section is generally treated as products, largely the antihistamine tablets,’ said Bruce Annabel, partner in charge of pharmacy services at Johnston Rorke. ‘However it’s one of the categories that really has the potential to be treated as providing a solution. ‘For example, anecdotally there are still a few doctors who are misdiagnosing allergic rhinitis as a bacterial infection and pre- scribing antibiotics. A good pharmacist is alert to this kind of thing, and can recommend an antihistamine or an intranasal cor- ticosteroid spray. ‘Let’s face it, anyone can sell a box of antihistamines, even the supermarkets. But can supermarkets diagnose allergic rhinitis? Of course not, there’s no-one there to do it. The checkout girl isn’t going to do it. As an allergy sufferer I’m always in the pharmacy looking for answers, though I rarely seem to find any. But it’s an area where you really can get beyond product and start talking about solutions.’ Brand power The introduction of generics to the mature allergy market pro- vides both opportunities and challenges, Mr Annabel said. ‘The loyalty is still to brands. Private label and generic prod- ucts have their place, and are a valid ranging alternative. But if they want the brand, don’t try and convince them otherwise, because they’ll start to wonder what’s in it for you.’ Mr Annabel cited Woolworths’ and Coles’ significant invest- ment in private label brands—and customers’ lukewarm reaction. He said ACNeilson data shows that despite an enormous amount of money spent by Woolworths and Coles in promoting these brands, putting a lot of them in and giving them the best locations on-shelf, the expected boom in house brands had not happened. An Australian Financial Review article in April 2006 showed that house brands accounted for 18 per cent of grocery sales (not including fresh produce and tobacco) in the December 2005 quarter—up from 17.8 per cent in late 2004 and 17.2 per cent in late 2003. ‘Customers just aren’t buying them,’ Mr Annabel said. ‘Even though these house brands are heavily promoted, they’re still selecting the brands they like and that they’re loyal to.’ He said that even in a deregulated market like the UK, he had observed that independent high-street pharmacists focused pri- marily on branded products, with a supplementary private label offer for those customers who wanted them. ‘They attract customers, and in an environment like the UK where customers can choose to go to a pharmacy in a super- market, or to one of the massive chains like Boots, they need to do something to attract those customers.’ However, a spokesperson for the Australasian Society of Clin- ical Immunology and Allergy (ASCIA) said that encouraging self- selection of allergy medication, particularly over-the-counter antihistamines (generic or branded), could discourage sufferers from investigating the source of their allergies. ‘If there’s a lot of products easily available on the market, there may be a reluctance to get tested and find out what the person is allergic to,’ the spokesperson told the AJP. ‘Self-treating all the time, particularly if the allergy is chronic, can be problematic. Then again, treating an allergy is better than doing nothing!’ Mr Annabel said that while making the most of brands was THE AUSTRALIAN JOURNAL OF PHARMACY VOL.87 OCTOBER 2006 ? 59