Sales for cold, cough and flu products expected to be flat

Numerator data shows lifting restrictions haven't had a major impact (yet).


Protracted lockdowns continue to have a profound impact on consumer health spending habits, and cold, cough and flu sales are only slightly higher for 2021 than in 2020, according to Numerator. 

The data and tech company has unveiled its latest Cold Weather Tracker insights, to provide context into Canadians’ spending behaviour in the cold, cough and flu category, as well as sales trends across other key ,health-related winter categories. 

According to government figures from the Ontario Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care, for 2020, flu cases per the national and Ontario surveillance systems were “historically low” thanks to COVID-19 lockdown restrictions and social distancing having a ripple effect on other contagious seasonal illnesses.

And Numerator data reveals Canadians were much less likely to purchase medicine during the 2020 winter season. So far, 2021 weekly sales have tracked similarly to 2020, despite relaxed restrictions across the country.

Projected 2021 sales for cold, cough and flu are $39.9 million dollars, just 0.5% higher than 2020 levels, which were down 28.7% compared with 2019 when widespread lockdowns came into effect (see, below).


Buy rate, meanwhile, is up $0.53 from 2020 to $13.95, erasing losses of $0.56 compared with 2019.

Household penetration remain down as compared with 2020 – though not nearly as depressed as 2019 levels – when household slipped 7.1 pp from 2019.

Cold, cough and flu household penetration is projected at 19.4%, down 0.7% compared with 2020 levels, which was 7.1% lower than in 2019 thanks to COVID.

However, these figures could change heading into the 2021-2022 winter season. Cough, cold and flu products tend to be needs-based purchases instead of the kind of thing consumer stock up on, and with more people heading into the office and having more social gatherings, that need could soon increase.

Looking at other categories, facial tissues are poised for a comeback after a big downturn 2020 vs 2019 levels saw, which saw steep sales decline as Canadians stayed home and were able to avert the common cold. 

Hand and body lotions, according to the Numerator Tracker, are showing a projected uptick for 2021 after holding steady 2020 vs 2019, part of the continued self-care trend.

According to the Tracker, pain relievers saw growth in 2020 compared 2019, and have tracked identically to 2020 this year so far. Tea, which saw a slight boost in 2020 vs. 2019, is tracking below for 2021. 

Stocks and broths, which grew sizeably in 2020 compared to 2019 thanks to cooking trends, are not seeing sustained momentum into 2021.

Not surprisingly, hand wipes, which thanks to COVID concerns saw massive growth in 2020, as many of us were very regularly sanitizing our hands, cars, homes, and more, are seeing 2021 sales tracking well below a year ago as the focus in COVID-19 prevention has shifted away from disinfecting surfaces and to ensuring better air quality.