Press Releases

IRI Pinpoints How Flu Uptick Is Impacting U.S. Markets and Helps Retailers Keep Medicine on Shelves for Consumers

Flu Escalating Rapidly in Houston, New Orleans, Mobile and San Diego; IRI Illness Tracking Correlates How Flu Prevalence and Purchase Behaviors Vary at Market Level

CHICAGO – Feb. 7, 2018 – The flu is now widespread nationwide, and it will take weeks before the epidemic begins to subside. The Houston market has been hit hard, with 11.8 percent of its population battling the flu, and New Orleans, La. (11.7 percent), Mobile, Ala. (11.7 percent), San Diego, Calif. (11.7 percent), Dallas, Texas (11.1 percent) and St. Louis, Mo. (9.9 percent) are following closely behind. Since the flu bug is hitting very hard, fast and in sporadic fashion, IRI just released a new report, “Flu Fury: IRI Pinpoints How Flu Is Impacting U.S. Markets,” and infographic, which examines how specific regional markets are being impacted by the flu and correlates how purchase behaviors vary at the market level. The research helps retailers anticipate inventory needs and avoid the typical 4 percent sales loss caused by out-of-stock products.

“We all know what it feels like to shop for medicine when you’re sick, only to find an empty peg or shelf,” said Bob Sanders, executive vice president of IRI’s Health Care Practice. “When this happens, one-third of consumers will make their purchase at a different store, and fewer than half will make a substitute purchase. Manufacturers and retailers must be prepared when the flu sweeps through town. Since market nuances are very important, we leveraged the IRI Illness Tracking™ to uncover flu trends market by market and store by store, so consumers from Little Rock to Houston don’t have to face that dreaded empty shelf.”

The spread of the flu virus is creating strong sales growth across many over-the-counter health care categories that treat and manage symptoms. Like many things in life, though, one size does not fit all. Comparing trends for the entire United States versus specific regional markets provides a clear illustration of the pronounced variations. For the four weeks ending Jan. 14, 2018:

  Dollar Sales % Chg. vs. Prior Qtr.         
  Total U.S. Houston, TX San Diego, CA
Health Care Department 7.8% 10.3%   14.3%
Humidifiers/Vaporizers/Air Filters 46.1%   31.3% 20.1%
Cough Syrup     39.9% 46.1%   99.3%
Cold/Allergy/Sinus Liq./Pwd. 35.1% 40.6%   83.8%
Cold/Allergy/Sinus Tab./Pkt. 26.8%   33.2% 61.9%
Cough/Sore Throat        21.6% 34.9%   58.2%  

 In addition, many non-healthcare categories also are seeing spikes and variations in sales that correlate to the flu escalation. For the four weeks ending Jan. 14, 2018:

  Dollar Sales % Chg. vs. Prior Qtr. 
  Total U.S. Houston, TX San Diego, CA
Spray Disinfectant 39.5%   43.9%   74.3%
Ready-to-Drink Baby Electrolytes 29.2%   14.4%   44.5%
Single-Cup Tea 21.1%   26.3% 22.8%
Ready-to-Serve Wet Soup 19.0%   24.2% 18.9%
All-Purpose Cloth Cleaners        18.5%   18.0%   22.7%

“With health officials reporting that this year’s flu season is now more intense than any since the 2009 swine flu pandemic, retailers must invest to understand the impact this type of event has on their sales and shopper interactions,” said Susan Viamari, vice president of Thought Leadership for IRI. “They simply can’t paint a broad brush stroke across their stores and end up with an accurate picture. You really need to look at stores by specific markets, because stock-outs will have a major negative impact on sales, and that can hit the bottom line very hard, translating to $40 million per year for a billion-dollar retailer.”

For more information about IRI Illness Tracking, 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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IRI fundamentally believes that delivering differentiated growth for clients requires deep, highly integrated partnering with a variety of best-of-breed companies. As such, IRI works closely with a broad range of industry leaders across multiple industries and sectors to create innovative joint solutions, services and access to capabilities to help its clients more effectively collaborate and compete in their various markets and exceed their growth objectives. IRI is committed to its partnership philosophy and continues to actively enhance its open ecosystem of partners through alliances, joint ventures, acquisitions and affiliations. The IRI Partner Ecosystem includes such leading companies as 84.51°, Adobe, Alphonso, The Boston Consulting Group, comScore, Experian, GfK, Gigwalk, Ipsos, Limbik, Mastercard Advisors, MaxPoint, Pinterest, Oracle, Research Now, Simulmedia, SPINS, Survey Sampling International, Univision, Viant and others.

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IRI is a leading provider of big data, predictive analytics and forward-looking insights that help CPG, OTC health care organizations, retailers, financial services and media companies grow their businesses. A confluence of major external events — a change in consumer buying habits, big data coming into its own, advanced analytics and personalized consumer activation — is leading to a seismic shift in drivers of success in all industries. With the largest repository of purchase, media, social, causal and loyalty data, all integrated on an on-demand, cloud-based technology platform, IRI is empowering the personalization revolution, helping to guide its more than 5,000 clients around the world in their quests to remain relentlessly relevant, capture market share, connect with consumers, collaborate with key constituents and deliver market-leading growth. For more information, visit

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Phone: +1 312.474.3675

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