From migraines to hangovers and muscle strain to toothache, most consumers turn to their medicine cabinets at some point in search of pain relief.
Headaches are the most common ailment in the UK, with 63% of people suffering from them in 2009, according to TGI data. An entirely pain-free existence is rare: almost nine out of 10 adults experience some form of pain in any one year. Headaches are most common among 15- to 44-year-olds.
Reaching for a quick pill to pop remains the solution for many, although there has been a slight dip in the number of people taking painkillers. About seven out of 10 people take them now, compared with eight out of 10 in 2004.
Sales are driven by need rather than desire, but those looking to trim their expenditure could trade down to cheaper pain relief products. For this market is starkly divided: on the one hand, manufacturers are looking to build in value with new formats and faster or claims of more powerful action, while, on the other, everyday low-pricing and own-label value packs mean consumers can buy generic paracetamol, ibuprofen or aspirin for pennies.
This low-cost end of the market is dampening value growth. During the past year, market value has increased only slightly (1%), rising from £620m in 2009 to an estimated £627m in 2010, according to Mintel.
The analgesics sector covers products available over the counter, without a prescription and includes topical analgesics such as gels, creams and sprays as well as oral remedies.
In terms of format, tablets and caplets remain the most popular and are the most readily available, as well as often being the cheapest. They accounted for just under half the market in 2009 with sales of £302m. Capsules, meanwhile, are gaining ground as many of the newer products on the market adopt this format. Sales increased by 23% between 2007 and 2009 and capsules account for almost a quarter of the market.
Where consumers buy their analgesics is changing, too. Where these medicines were once the sole preserve of pharmacies, more consumers are now adding them to their regular grocery list and picking them up during their supermarket shop. Chemists now account for a third of sales, with Boots the dominant player. For 'distress purchases', convenience stores accounted for 12% of sales in 2009, although the range on offer is more limited.
The vast majority of households keep a supply of painkillers so they are easily to hand when the need arises: 84% of people claim to always have some at home, according to TGI.
One way in which this market has developed has been with pain-specific treatments, such as Bayer's Feminax for menstrual pains and GlaxoSmithKline's Imigran Recovery for migraines. These niche products encourage consumers to purchase a greater variety of painkillers, rather than sticking with a one-size fits all approach.
Reckitt Benckiser has supported and expanded its Nurofen brand in recent years. The strategy has paid dividends, making it the biggest brand by far. Its NPD has included an infant suspension, Nurofen Express and Nurofen Maximum Strength formulations, and a topical patch for backs. The company, which also owns the Disprin brand, last year rebadged itself RB, as it merged its healthcare and household businesses.
Its main manufacturing rival is GlaxoSmithKline, which owns brands including Solpadeine, Panadol, Hedex and Imigran.
Johnson & Johnson is well-established in its positioning as a brand parents can trust. It has successfully extended into this market since it acquired the leading infant analgesic brand, Calpol; more recently, it added Calprofen, an ibuprofen suspension for babies and children.
Manufacturers may have to work harder on NPD to maintain market value in the coming five-year period, however. The swing toward lower-priced, non-branded analgesics, combined with a fall in the number of core users for painkillers, means the market is predicted to decrease in value. Mintel estimates that it will be worth £649m by 2015. Although this is a rise of 3% on 2010, the market will have fallen 6% when inflation is taken into account.