Weathering the Allergy Storm with Data: Big Data Brings Relief to Medicine Supply Chains

  • Jun 14, 2017

Out of Stock? Weather Data to the Rescue

Your nose is running, your eyes are puffy, and you’re having trouble breathing. Based on the time of the year, you know these symptoms can only mean one thing: Allergies. You rush to the medicine aisle at your local pharmacy and you can’t believe it! Your go-to allergy medication is out of stock.

How did this happen? Shouldn’t Big Pharma know when allergies are going to spike?

While there is no exact science to predicting allergy season spikes, there is plenty of data out there to help analysts come up with extremely accurate forecasts. Weather data helps pharmaceutical companies sift through the noise and create supply-demand plans that keep operations running smoothly all allergy season long. In this data-driven age, medical companies cannot afford to run out of stock.

Why Stores Can’t Afford to Run out of Stock

The main reasons why allergy medicine providers can’t run out of stock is the competition. If you head to the store to buy Claritin and only Zyrtec is in stock, you’re more likely to buy the Zyrtec based on your severe need to alleviate your symptoms.

Not only can being out-of-stock lead companies to lose loyal customers to in-stock competition, but it can also hurt their online reputation. Negative feedback from customers can be difficult to deal with. While marketers oftentimes see complaints as opportunities to improve the customer experience, these complaints can damage a brand’s image and hurt future business. Especially when it comes from patients who are suffering from debilitating allergies.

A simple search on Twitter shows thousands of complaints from allergy sufferers who went to their pharmacies in hopes of relief and ended up empty handed.

This tweet from Twitter user @ThatSoRabin shows a nightmarish image from their local pharmacy during early May, 2017. Only a handful of medicines are still available. No doubt weather data could have helped the missing companies ensure their brands were available to this particular consumer.

Why Weather Data?

While allergens exist all year long, the spring months tend to be the worst for U.S. allergy sufferers. In fact, an estimated 50 to 60 million people in the U.S. alone struggle with seasonal allergies.

When it comes to allergies, weather data plays a huge role in making sure pharmacies don’t run out of stock of your go-to medications. While seasonal shifts are partly to blame for runny noses and itchy eyes, every year can be a different experience depending on the weather. Weather conditions like heavy rain and low temperatures alleviate allergy symptoms while strong winds and dry air make them worse. By monitoring and predicting these fluctuations in day-to-day weather conditions, pharmaceutical companies can ensure their medicine is ready-to-go when allergy symptoms become unbearable.

U.K.-based Retail Assist reports that weather-affected sales account for 4.5% of overall sales, a number that could determine the difference between a quarterly profit or a loss. Since the weather has a large effect on allergies, this is an important stat for companies that create and sell allergy medication.

While there are plenty of other factors that influence sales, National Retail Federation’s lead retail analyst Patrick O’Brien states that the weather “undoubtedly has an effect.”

Optimizing Supply Chains with Weather Data

That’s where staying in-stock comes into play.

Traditionally, the life sciences supply chain focuses on a “push” of supply. Push supply chains are centered on the product, not the patient, which is why pharmacies can sometimes run out of critical medicines during busy months. This model, however, is changing due to challenges in the industry like expired patents, less profitable product extensions, new patient needs, and increased competition.

There is a movement within the life sciences field towards a patient-centric model. This is a sensible model that focuses on the “pull,” or the needs and wants of the patients and healthcare providers. The traditional linear model of a supply chain in life sciences companies today must transform to enable a “value network,” or a set of chains that is patient-centric, dynamic, and responsive to markets. To successfully implement this new model, pharmacies must look for insights that improve patient outcomes and establish supply strategies to ensure predictable, compliant and secure supply when and where patients need it. This movement is critical when it comes to allergy medication, because the pull from target markets is higher when weather conditions are dry and hot.

Case Study: Claritin

While this concept is fairly new, big pharmacy companies are already taking advantage of analytics that help them better serve allergy suffers. Bayer, the maker of Claritin, plans its entire supply chain for the antihistamine up to nine months ahead of time using software that models climate patterns to predict levels of allergens. This helps them keep up with supply and demand. By monitoring weather data, Bayer can place Claritin where their target market is, when their target market needs it and promote it accordingly.

Mike DeBiais, vice president of Bayer’s U.S. allergy business, told the Wall Street Journal that he started preparing the supply chain for the spring allergy season in 2015 six to nine months before the season hit. His team used third-party software that looked at global warming information, allergy trends, and weather data. By analyzing specialized weather forecasts to predict when allergens were likely to be prevalent, Bayer coordinated with their retailers to correlate it with customer behavior by U.S. ZIP code. Besides weather data, other data sources like social media comments about allergies within patient communities helped Claritin hone in on big data and stay profitable throughout the fluctuations in the season.

What Else Can Allergy Data Do

Recent studies have shown that a common symptom of most seasonal allergies is a weakened immune system. If monitoring weather data can help companies predict spikes in allergy season, it can also help them predict cold outbreaks as well. Instead of solely using weather data to push allergy medicine, medical companies should look into the pull of cold medication during traditionally non-cold seasons, like the Spring in the northeastern U.S. By extending weather analytics into different medical spheres throughout the year and associating allergies with colds, pharmaceutical companies could see a high ROI during the seasons other than flu season.

Using Weather Data to Your Advantage

Weather data isn’t just for Big Pharma, either. Most weather apps have a pollen count on them so it’s easy for you to monitor which days are going to be bad depending on your allergy. You can also keep track of how your body reacts to different levels of allergens. If you really struggle with allergies, keep a spreadsheet of the severity of your symptoms and the allergen levels for each day, so you can do your own predictive analysis on when you’ll need a keep your medicine handy. Just hope that as pharmacies get more data-savvy, you won’t be stuck with an empty shelf in the allergy aisle.