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Innovations broaden definition of first aid.

NEW YORK -- The first aid category has expanded and diversified to encompass a wide range of products, including some that stretch traditional notions of what first aid involves. But much of the expansion is an outgrowth of new technologies in both the treatments and devices segments.

Recent sales growth, however, has been modest. Several of the segments, such as hot/cold therapy products and muscle/body support devices, represent occasional purchases, usually in response to such particular situations as an injury, and consequently have long purchase cycles. First aid ointments and antiseptics have had the most robust sales growth, rising more than 4% to $452.9 million during the 52 weeks ended August 12 (including sales through food, drug and discount outlets excluding Wal-Mart Stores Inc.), according to Information Resources Inc.

Other segments have seen more tepid growth or even declines. Muscle/body support devices, for example, gained about 2% over a similar period, while heat/ice packs edged down 0.2%. First aid kits, meanwhile, dipped almost 2%, as several brands have experienced sharp declines. The only makers among the top 14 brands to register gains, in fact, were Johnson & Johnson and 3M. Interestingly, the losses in this sector were not due to private label encroachment; sales of store brand first aid kits tumbled nearly 15%, according to IRI.

With many Americans pursuing active lifestyles that include amateur sports or other rigorous outdoor activities, aches and pains from muscle and joint injuries are a natural result.

While such analgesic rubs as Ben-Gay, now owned by Johnson & Johnson, and W.F. Young's Absorbine Jr. are still standbys, the development of hot and cold therapy has provided alternative products that deal with the swelling and inflammation that accompany such injuries as well as the pain.

While most products in the heat/ice pack category provide either heat or cold, advanced technology has produced a product that can deliver either as needed. Thermipaq from Thermionics Corp. uses a mix of ceramic clay and nontoxic oils in a special pad that stays pliable and can thus be applied effectively even to such difficult areas as the ankle. According to IRI, Thermipaq was the No. 6 brand in the category for the 52 weeks ended July 15.

The category leader, Procter & Gamble Co.'s ThermaCare, debuted in 2002 and helped establish heat therapy as a viable alternative or supplement to analgesics. Since then the company has developed a range of heat wraps that are designed for application to specific areas, including the knees, neck, arm, lower back and even the abdomen for treatment of menstrual pain.

For cold therapy Modular Thermal Technologies offers the Cryo-Max 8-Hour Reusable Cold Pack, which relies on a patented matrix of cooling modules in a mesh with areas designed to absorb the heat from inflammation. Consequently, the pad can deliver cold therapy at doctor-recommended levels for up to eight hours--a huge advance over the traditional ice pack, which can produce frostbite if applied for more than 20 or 30 minutes at a time.

There was a time when the only resources for dealing with a muscle strain or sprain short of a visit to a doctor was an elastic bandage and some adhesive tape. That is no longer true, however, as the highly sophisticated technologies of sports medicine have found their way to the shelves of mass market retailers. As a result, the armies of physically active weekend warriors are able to select from a wide array of highly specialized support devices.

The leading players in the category have all helped drive this trend: the Futuro brand from Beiersdorf Inc., BD's venerable ACE brand and Mueller Sports Medicine Inc. Mueller, in fact, has acknowledged the large numbers of women who participate in amateur athletic competition with a line of products geared to them. The LifeCare for Her collection hit store shelves last month and includes knee, ankle, elbow and wrist supports.
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Title Annotation:FIRST AID
Geographic Code:1U2NY
Date:Oct 8, 2007
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