Traditionally, unit sales within the health and beauty aid (HBA) category, which covers a variety of products from toothpaste to pain relief, from contraceptives to cosmetics, pale in comparison with alcohol, beverages, tobacco or snacks, but COVID-19 lifted those statistics for certain elements.
As the reality of the global pandemic set in, people became much more conscientious about healthy practices, especially incorporating more diligent hand-hygiene habits. That sudden shift created an unprecedented demand for personal disinfecting products such as alcohol wipes and hand sanitizers. Convenience store category managers quickly adjusted planograms accordingly. Nielsen research indicated c-stores added 100 SKUs of hand sanitizers in 2020, many of which didn’t even exist the previous year. Within six months of the first major spike of the novel coronavirus, retailers cashed in on nearly $3 million more in hand sanitizers sales than all of 2019, representing a historic increase of 485%.
And as grocers and big box stores ran out of toilet paper and other personal care items, these product lines in c-stores became more appealing as basket items than snacks or beverages.
As the two-year mark of COVID-19 in the United States approaches, mask and sanitizer sales have settled somewhat as the stock-up frenzy fizzled and people have returned to previous shopping habits, including looking for such necessities online. Still, public health officials have suggested the need for personal protective gear will stick around as new virus variants develop. Therefore, this HBA segment most likely will have a permanent home on c-store shelves.
COVID-19 also exerted a negative effect on the HBA category because people stayed home in record numbers. Fewer public interactions in the office, at school and recreational events, or at gathering sites like restaurants decreased the sharing of common cold germs. According to multiple health-tracking organizations, including Johns Hopkins University, flu and cold cases dropped dramatically last year. Therefore, people had less need for cold/allergy/sinus liquids and tablets, so sales fell off, according to IRI market research. However, as the world began — and continues — to open back up, the need for these over-the-counter remedies has begun to come back. Seasonal sales of pain and cold relief are anticipated to return to pre-pandemic levels, or at least come close.
Of all the HBA sectors, though, COVID-19 affected beauty products the hardest. Bath and shower lines fell by nearly 44% this fall, and facial and skin care dropped approximately 20%.
Even before the global pandemic, e-commerce and big box stores were most people’s first choice on where to shop for beauty items. That’s probably not going to change anytime soon, but customers are sure to appreciate the continued convenience of finding a variety of HBA offerings in c-stores when that last-minute need arises.