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IRI Finds Current Flu Season Starting Earlier, Lasting Longer and Affecting Fewer

New IRI Research Reveals Millennials Harder Hit. Flu Season Starting Earlier in Recent Years and Health Care Product Sales Declining, Sometimes Dramatically

CHICAGO — March 11, 2019 — Flu season often hits in mid-January, but it started in November for the last two years. Despite a longer flu season, the total number of U.S. cases is down by more than half: 56.7 percent in 2018-2019 compared to the 2017-2018 season, according to a new IRI Illness Tracking report, 2019 Flu Impact Varies by Market.

As with previous reports, this year’s report notes the severity of the flu season varies widely across the United States and often counterintuitively. Warmer states, such as Texas and Georgia, suffered among the highest incidences of flu, while Maine, Minnesota and Wisconsin had among the lowest. This and related trends included in the report will enable health care brands and retailers to adjust production and distribution to avoid out of stocks  that can erode shopper loyalty, as well as overstock situations, where products remain unsold by their expiration dates.

“This flu season, those aged 20-49, including millennials (ages 23-38), represent the greatest number and percentage of flu cases, countering the general assumption that flu hits the very young and the very old hardest,” said Robert Sanders, executive vice president of the IRI Health Care Practice. “This and other results offer savvy marketers the opportunity to adjust messaging and capture share from competitive brands and outlets.”

IRI’s annual Illness Tracking report provides detailed insights on a wide range of influenza-like illness information, such as year over year, by region, consumer segment and related trends. It also delves into related information, such as sales of CPG products people consume to alleviate symptoms, such as tea and soup. Among the trends identified this year:

  • Flu season has recently started and spiked earlier: This year’s flu season spiked in early February, while the 2015-2016 flu season spiked in mid-March;
  • Sales of flu remedies and associated products are down, in some cases dramatically: While sales of aisle-health remedies and soup dropped approximately 4 percent, personal thermometer sales plunged roughly 30 percent;
  • Total flu incidence is down, but there are pockets of suffering: Flu incidence is down more than 70 percent in Oregon and Illinois but up by 11.6 percent and 8.3 percent in Massachusetts and New Hampshire, respectively.

The flu season is not yet over; retailers should anticipate another influx of health-aisle product sales and plan to keep shelves accurately stocked for consumers in need. Out of stocks contribute to huge losses for retailers in the United States, costing $47.4 billion annually, according to IRI’s research.

“There are opportunities for marketers to adjust product offerings, promotions, planograms and related activities to reflect and take advantage of this year’s flu season realities,” said Joan Driggs, vice president of Content and Thought Leadership for IRI. “Keys to success with these new initiatives include a highly detailed understanding of the data and trends, identifying high-value shoppers with a stronger propensity to purchase, and the ability to execute rapidly and creatively.”

For more information about IRI’s 2019 Illness Tracking report, which provides integrated illness incidence for cold, flu and allergy symptoms and product sales on a single analytic platform, please contact

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