For international CPG manufacturers, success in the U.S. is not guaranteed – part one

June 4, 2015By Behind the Shelf Blog, Brand Marketing

By Angela Pinkstaff

In this three-part blog series I’m going to cover the critical steps to take when introducing an international product to the U.S. This post will focus on market research.

With over $33 billion in sales in 2013 alone*, the United States OTC market certainly seems like fertile ground for an international CPG manufacturer to find success. And, given that the core OTC categories dominating growth in Europe** and Asia Pacific*** – cold & allergy, digestive health, analgesics, skin care, vitamins & supplements, and eye care – also mirror those in the U.S., the opportunity to gain a foothold could seem assured.

Yet even considerable success outside the U.S. does not guarantee a spot on the shelf here. Some companies hold a large share of the global market, only to enter the U.S. and find that their products’ international popularity isn’t relatable to the American shopper. Others struggle to make their offerings stand out in a category already dense with rich assortments, multiple pack sizes and long-established players. Many OTC companies residing outside the United States are challenged by the intricacies of our retail landscape and the high dollar investment to be part of it.

Those international manufacturers who have been able to carve out a spot among the crowds of contenders weren’t just in the right place at the right time – they knew how to be in the right place, with the right product, when the market timing was perfect. So how did they do it?

Research, research, research, and then partnership

Understanding the U.S. retail sales model is paramount to finding any success research, research, researchwithin it. We’ve spoken to many manufacturers who wanted to bring their OTC products to market with little planning and no education on competitive innovations, marketing, pricing, promotional spends and slotting fees, category reviews, or retail players. Desire to be in the market should also be paired with a strong research investment, including studies focused on, among other topics: consumer trends, truly unmet needs at shelf, price sizing for the market, advertising spend, and a deep dive into shoppers’ current perspective of your brand. Without this information, new products have little or no chance to compete in this ever-changing and often highly-competitive landscape.

Research and analysis should be completed at least 18 months ahead of a planned launch strategy, allowing enough time for any outcomes to be developed and executed. Before those research findings are acted upon, the next step is to partner with the right experts.

Check back for my next post which will discuss selling strategies and branding.

Angela Pinkstaff

Angela leads the business development team in their efforts to build relationships with manufacturer clients across the health, beauty and wellness categories. In addition, she develops and implements strategic partnerships with clients to create growth and revenue in the retail and wholesale channels. 


* OTC Sales 1964-2013: [] and The Nielsen Company (1992-2013)

** Tisman, Andy: The Rising Tide of OTC in Europe: []: page 4, fig. 6 [2010]

***Te, Katherine: Consumer Health: Keeping pace with the burgeoning Asia-Pacific OTC Market: []: page 1, para. 4 [year not cited; appears to be 2013]

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