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Belgium consumer health market: Characterised by high level of fragmentation
Consumer Health in Belgium - a new market research report on 2014-04-18 17:49:03
Whilst players were already disappointed by the performance of the Belgium consumer health market in 2011, the market posted the most disappointing growth of the review period in 2012. Negative factors tended to pile up in this year, including a new drop in GDP and thus in consumer confidence, a limited number of diseases, and increasingly tough juridical constraints or the need for medical studies regarding product claims, even within the most promising niches. By contrast with the bulk of the review period, consumers tended to make a trade-off between superfluous products and what really mattered. Growth remained slightly positive in current value terms, however, thanks notably to the contribution of cold, cough and allergy (hay fever) remedies, vitamins and calming and sleeping products.

The main factor causing the sluggish performance of the market was a return to a rather negative climate surrounding consumer health. First, there were negative expert opinions about the harmlessness of "blockbuster" ingredients or brands, such as acetaminophen and the Motilium brand from Janssen-Cilag. Then, whilst the Belgian authorities seemed to accept more positive switches in recent years (Alli, H2 blockers and proton pump inhibitors, for instance), deregulation slowed down from 2011, with the questioning of paediatric dextromethorphan products by the Commission des Médicaments (Medicines Commission) and the limited progression of internet sales.

The competitive environment was still characterised by a high level of fragmentation in 2012, with no clear leader. The top five players, which encompass ethical and OTC registered specialists, performed rather poorly in 2012. Many local manufacturers with more modest shares surprisingly fared better in 2012. Thanks to their flexible size and adaptation to local demand, they often knew how best to deal with the unfavourable environment. In spite of some improvements in recent years, legislation regarding registration, pricing, distribution and advertising in Belgium was still less favourable to manufacturers than in the majority of other Western European countries.

As in France, chemists/pharmacies monopolises sales of standard analgesics, digestive remedies, NRT smoking cessation aids and eye care products, despite rumours of deregulation during the second half of the review period. This channel also holds a dominant share in most other categories. This dominance leaves little room for other distribution channels, the most important being grocery retailers. From a low base, parapharmacies/ drugstores continued to gain ground in 2012, by virtue of the dynamism of the Dutch chain Kruidvat and the emergence of new chains.

The outlook is expected to cloud over for consumer health in the forecast period, according to many trade sources. The unfavourable economic environment and the prospect of another debt crisis are expected to dampen consumers´ spending and affect sales of non-essential products. In combination with the more stringent recommendations of the EFSA and some negative medical studies and expert opinions, this could result in the stagnation of consumer health in constant value terms over the forecast period.

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