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Pharmaceutical Manufacturing and Packing Sourcer

Counter Culture

The over-the-counter (OTC) segment is valued at an estimated $85 billion – equating to more than 10% of the global pharmaceutical market. It comprises a wide variety of products, including cough/cold remedies, analgesics, vitamins and minerals/tonics, and digestive health solutions. This diversity has attracted a range of players to the OTC arena, from traditional pharma companies to consumer-oriented organisations with strong distribution networks.

While still relatively modest in size compared to the total pharma market, OTC is growing rapidly, boosted by regulatory changes, shifting customer attitudes and the greater propensity to self-medicate. This expansion is evident in developed and emerging economies alike. Driven by the need for medication at an affordable price, Latin America is the fastest growth region, followed by Southeast Asia and Eastern Europe. Meanwhile, developed economies continue to expand, as patients enjoy the benefit of lower costs and easier access to treatment.

These dynamics are providing the industry – from drug manufacturers to suppliers – with new opportunities and challenges in terms of how they approach the OTC segment and meet consumers’ evolving needs.

Market Drivers

The increased incidence of systemic diseases and an ageing population – with the corresponding demands on healthcare services – continue to prompt many governments to consider moving lower-risk medication from prescription to OTC status in an attempt to ease budgetary pressure.

According to the United Nations, the number of people aged 60 or over is expected to more than double from 841 million to 2 billion by 2050 – by which time, more than one in five people will be classified as 'older'. As a result, products that are typically non-habit forming with lower risk of significant side-effects – such as allergy, gastrointestinal and pink-eye remedies, and contraceptives – have strong potential to transition to OTC, to reallocate funds to invest in more age-related conditions.

At the same time, access to information via the internet has empowered people to seek greater knowledge about their health and wellbeing, leading to a growth in self-diagnosis – particularly of minor ailments. With convenience increasingly at a premium, the OTC segment allows consumers to access treatment without taking time off work to visit their doctor. It also offers them scope to try a variety of products to determine the optimal solution for their healthcare issue – for example, users of allergy treatments often find they respond better to a specific active ingredient.

Responding to this growing demand for convenience, retailers are extending distribution beyond the traditional pharmacy channel into grocery and other outlets (such as petrol stations), and devoting increased floor space to OTC products.

All of this gives manufacturers a potentially fertile backdrop. Those supplying previously prescription-only drugs now have an opportunity to reach a broader patient base, extend exclusivity and delay – or, at least, mitigate – the generic competition coming from the prescription segment. In addition, fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) companies – with product portfolios ranging from laundry detergent and household cleaning to food and personal care – can flex their innovation muscles on new product development, line extensions and/or healthcare partnerships.

Role of Packaging

However, the transition of certain products from a name scrawled on a prescription by a medical professional to something which customers self-select – often as part of their weekly shopping trip – raises a number of challenges, not least with packaging.

First and foremost, specialist secondary packaging (those outer elements, such as the folding carton, paper leaflet inserts and labels, which surround – as opposed to come into contact with – OTC medication) must conform to the stringent requirements imposed by both governments and manufacturers. It is no exaggeration to say that the information contained on the packaging of an OTC product needs to assume certain aspects of the role of the doctor with regard to instructing the consumer on the symptoms for which the product is appropriate, the proper dosage, the contra-indications, and so on.

This needs to be produced in high volume –100% accurately, 100% of the time – and in a legible and user-friendly format, frequently in multiple languages (including Braille). In the OTC segment, packaging has a crucial part to play in informing people about – and inspiring their trust in – the medication they are taking.

Product Safety

Beyond this important communication aspect, packaging can also deliver other critical, functional benefits to manufacturers and consumers alike – particularly in the context of illicit trading. Worryingly, according to the WHO and others, counterfeiting of pharmaceutical products accounts for some 10% of the global market. An estimated 50% of drugs available on the internet are thought to be fake, with the figure reaching up to 70% in certain African and Eastern European countries. Furthermore, the criminal fraternity which trades in counterfeit medicines is finding ever-more sophisticated ways to infiltrate legitimate supply chains. Interpol says that patients across the world put their health – even their lives – at risk by unknowingly consuming illegal drugs, or genuine products that have been doctored, badly stored or have expired.

Protection against counterfeiters is as applicable in the OTC segment as it is in the market for prescription drugs – and again, suppliers of added-value packaging components to the industry have a key role. Multi-layered authentication and tamper-evidence solutions – including covert and/or forensic features such as taggants, together with the associated high-tech reading equipment – can be provided to customs agencies, brand owners and authorised distributors, to ensure genuine products are protected throughout the supply chain.

Going further still, suppliers of packaging to the OTC industry need to give optimal functionality for consumers. Given the aforementioned ageing population, this obviously means making sure that packs are easy to open – without having to resort to scissors or brute force. That said, medication should not be too easy to open: for example, it should be straightforward for patients to monitor their dosage; not result in spillage; and protect children against serious injury or illness from inadvertent handling, ingestion or application.

Presence and Appeal

With FMCG companies such as Johnson & Johnson and Reckitt Benckiser – and their respective brands of Tylenol, Nurofen and Strepsils – among the well-known players in the OTC space, there is a clear need for packaging which goes above and beyond the imperatives of regulatory compliance, brand protection and functionality. On a rapidly expanding – and increasingly crowded – shelf, OTC products need to stand out in terms of presence and appeal. Outer packaging colour, graphics to surface treatments that catch the eye and clearly communicate the benefits of the product, and other attentiongrabbing design and printing techniques are becoming prerequisites.

Evaluating customer needs and applying unique approaches to packaging will be required as the OTC market evolves, so that consumers of all ages have safe access to medication in the right dose with the information required. Given all of the market dynamics, those who supply the industry with essential packaging components must remain ahead of these rapidly changing trends and innovate to provide added-value solutions – from sophisticated, yet regulatory compliant, design to attract customers, to layered authentication technologies to deter counterfeiters.


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Tiffany Overstreet is Global Category Management Director at Essentra, where she is responsible for developing and implementing customer-oriented go-tomarket strategies and trade marketing. Since joining the company in 2010, Tiffany has served in a number of expanding roles, including commercial development and marketing. Prior to joining Essentra, she held several key management positions at Tredegar Corporation. Tiffany holds a Master’s degree in Business Administration from The Mason School of Business at The College of William & Mary, and a BS in Business Administration-Marketing from The University of Richmond, US.
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