Cold and flu remedy sales dip 55% amid social distancing

Grocery sales enjoy 18 per cent bump as shoppers spend more on meals and snacks

Cold and flu remedy sales have been under the weather this winter with social distancing, working from home, masks, lockdowns and the shutting of virtually all social outlets, meaning people are not getting the traditional aches, pains, coughs and sneezes associated with this time of year.

According to the latest raft of figures from retail analyst Kantar, sales of cold treatments have fallen by 55 per cent in the past 12 weeks, while cough syrup sales have fallen by an even more precipitous 60 per cent.

Sales of lozenges for a sore throat, meanwhile, have seen a decline of 42 per cent compared with the same period last year.


While the medicine aisles may have been feeling poorly, spending across other sectors of our supermarkets have been the picture of health with take-home grocery sales climbing by just under 18 per cent over the past four weeks.


Since the start of the pandemic a year ago, supermarket spending has increased by €2 billion, with the average household bill climbing by about €1,000 when compared with the previous 12 months.

The Kantar figures for the period ending February 21st, also point to another record-breaking month for online grocery shopping, with virtual sales accounting for 6.3 per cent of the total – more than double the 2.7 per cent recorded in pre-Covid times.

All told, take-home grocery sales grew by 16.3 per cent in the 12 weeks to February 21st, with growth stronger in the past month at 17.7 per cent, the highest level since November 2020.

"As we approach a full year since the first national lockdown in Ireland, we can see how the months of restaurant and bar closures, working from home and homeschooling have added up," said Emer Healy, retail analyst at Kantar.

“All those extra meals and snacks at home have led to an extra €2 billion spent on take-home groceries, including Irish shoppers splashing out €7.6 million on tea and €19.5 million on instant coffee to get their fix at home.”

She said people were saving money on grooming costs and healthcare, however, with sales of shampoo and conditioner falling by just under 1 per cent and 3 per cent respectively, and sales of deodorant falling by a more substantial 5.4 per cent.

Liquid soap sales remain bubbly, climbing by 99.5 per cent in the most recent 12 weeks.

February brought Valentine’s Day and Shrove Tuesday, with consumers doing what they could to make the most of events they could celebrate at home, spending an additional €3.2 million on boxes of chocolates. Sales of flour, eggs and syrup grew by 56 per cent, 21 per cent and 14 per cent respectively.


Shoppers ordered €63 million worth of take-home groceries online in the period, accounting for 6.3 per cent of all sales. “Online’s share of the grocery market has had an extraordinary uplift compared with the pre-pandemic level,” said Ms Healy.

“Lockdown may well have converted some previously reluctant digital customers long term – 241,500 people made an order in February, compared with 114,800 last year.

They are also using services more often, completing 21.7 per cent more digital orders a month.”

She said the 12-month Covid-19 milestone was significant for retailers “as it means we start to compare sales against the record-breaking levels of the start of the pandemic in March 2020, and we will see year-on-year growth decline from next month as a result.”

Lidl was once again the fastest-growing retailer at 21.8 per cent, with basket sizes increasing by 14.9 per cent year on year. Aldi customers spent an additional €57.1 million this period, driving 13.4 per cent growth. Tesco shoppers added an additional 3.6 items to their baskets this period, more than customers at any other retailer, and helped the grocer's overall sales to rise by 18 per cent.

Conor Pope

Conor Pope

Conor Pope is Consumer Affairs Correspondent, Pricewatch Editor and cohost of the In the News podcast