Community pharmacy can still benefit from the baby care market, despite a falling birth rate

According to the Babies’ And Children’s Personal Care Products, Nappies and Wipes UK report from Mintel in March 2016, the baby boom is slowing. There are fewer births and, as a result of this, the market fell 5.5 per cent from 2014 to 2015, a trend that is expected to continue.

In the Mintel report, eight out of 10 parents who bought baby products agreed that supermarket baby aisles were the best place to buy products for children, with dedicated areas of shelf space and a wide range of choice. But, crucially, many mothers found some aspects daunting and were keen to seek advice from healthcare specialists in their local community when it came to choosing healthcare products and infant formula.

So how can pharmacies continue to attract customers and make the most of their baby health and care section?

Offer one-to-one advice

Chris Clarke, NUK marketing manager, says pharmacies need to offer something that consumers can’t always get in the grocery multiples – advice – in addition to products. “We know that research is a huge aspect of the purchase process for the majority of baby products,” he says.

“But unfortunately, that expert advice and reassurance that parents crave isn’t always readily available in your local supermarket. Providing advice and guidance gives mums and dads another reason to visit their local pharmacy. From a selling perspective, pharmacists can also capitalise by having a differentiated offer from the major multiples, as some of the more specialist brands that parents seek out don’t necessarily get the shelf space in the majors that they deserve. By investing in a differentiated range, pharmacists can also benefit from a reduced risk of price undercutting.”

New parents may feel overwhelmed by their new arrival, so need reassurance that they are not alone. “There is a lot of information out there for parents,” says Niamh McMillan, clinical development manager at Superdrug. “They are often bombarded with packs and leaflets from the moment the pregnancy is confirmed, through to the birth and caring for the newborn child. The information is quite often confusing and conflicting. Community pharmacists and their teams are ideally placed to support parents to make sense of it all.”

Stock specialist formulas

With any retail category, it is important to have products available to customers at all times. But with infant feeding, it’s essential. Parents may choose to visit a pharmacy because they are confident they can find help with an infant feeding problem, such as reflux, lactose intolerance or allergies, so pharmacies will want to keep a range of infant formulas in stock.

Unlike other categories, where there is a degree of substitution, most customers buying infant formula will not choose an alternative brand if their first choice is not available,” says an SMA Nutrition spokesperson.

“The baby milk category has tremendous brand loyalty – well over 80 per cent of mums will not change their formula brand. Seventy-five per cent of those who are specifically shopping for formula will go to a different store if they can’t get exactly what they want in terms of brand and stage.”

Many parents try three or four brands of very similar formulas before finally settling their baby on the one that suits them. “The pharmacy has the training and recognition that gives weight to their healthcare advice,” says Claire Magee, managing director of NannyCare.

“Advice that results in a positive outcome, ie getting the baby settled sooner, will reflect well on the pharmacy. Pharmacists and pharmacy assistants could take a more proactive role in advising and educating parents about the different types of formula milk available and pointing out the differences between cow’s milk versus goat’s milk and specialist formulas. This way, they can become trusted partners within the community and can build relationships that will encourage repeat purchases and crosscategory purchases.”

Healthcare information

Pharmacy is often the first place parents go to for advice on common baby ailments, such as colic, colds and teething pain. Emma Wright, Nelsons Baby brand manager, says it is therefore important for pharmacies to be able to provide clear information for new parents.

“These ailments can be very distressing for parents,” she says. “It is important for pharmacies to provide support to new parents, helping them cope with their baby’s ailment and provide them clear information on what treatment options are available to them.”

In the long-term, the health advice will extend beyond baby problems. “As babies grow into toddlers, parents may need advice on products like insect repellents and sunscreens in the warmer months and treatments for coughs and colds in the winter,” says an SMA Nutrition spokesperson.

“Creating appropriate seasonal displays is a great way to maximise sales across different product categories.”

Stock natural alternatives

According to last year’s Euromonitor report Baby And Child-Specific Products In The United Kingdom, the main trend driving growth in 2015 was a continued interest in natural and organic baby and child-specific products, reflecting higher awareness of ingredients such as parabens.

Parents want reassurance that the products they buy contain the best ingredients for their children’s skin. “Seventy-five per cent of parents believe natural baby products are as effective as other forms of baby healthcare products,” says Ms Wright.

“And 63 per cent of parents seek out natural alternatives where possible to use on their baby. So it is vital for pharmacies to ensure they have a number of natural baby healthcare products available for parents and that they are easy to find on shelf. Having information booklets on how to care for common baby ailments and shelf strips to promote natural baby healthcare can also help parents navigate the broad baby healthcare category.”

Encourage link sales

New parents tend to seek out baby products that help to make their lives easier. Well-stocked shelves will ensure footfall, and encourage cross-category purchases, ensuring the pharmacy is a chosen destination for future family healthcare purchases. Sara Keel, founder of Babycup, says there is a great opportunity to have a strong “best for baby” message. “Whether online or in-store, pharmacies have that great position of trust,” she says.

“That is a powerfully reassuring factor for parents, especially in the early years when information and advice can feel overwhelming and confusing. For advice and products, pharmacies have an essential role, and the drive to encourage visits to the pharmacy instead of the GP has further increased this.”

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