Clean Pharma Comes For Over-The-Counter Meds

Image: Care/of

Clean labels have reached the medicine cabinet. Taking a page out of the wellness playbook, companies like Genexa are disrupting traditional over-the-counter meds.

What’s happening: Following multiple high-profile scandals, consumers have all but lost trust in Big Pharma.

A recent MIT study found that 93% of OTC medicines are full of common allergens, synthetic dyes, and/or artificial sweeteners. Meanwhile, demand for “clean-label” products is at an all-time high.

Flipping the script, a new generation of medicine brands are creating better-for-you versions of OTC meds (like Tylenol, Advil, Emergen-C), challenging legacy giants like Bayer AG and Johnson & Johnson.

Borrowing the blueprint that Ritual and Care/of used to disrupt vitamins, upstarts are packaging products in bright colors and with cheeky messaging, hoping to revamp the medicine aisle and cash in on a $43B market:

  • Clean pharma firm Genexa raised $60M in Series A funding in July and has found success partnering with parenting influencers and US retailers across 45,000 stores.
  • Beekeeper’s Naturals saw 600% YoY growth during the pandemic for its immune-boosting cough syrup alternative.
  • Timed with a January 2020 launch, Hilma secured investments from Forerunner Ventures, Global Founders Capital, and more to sell its clean versions of headache, allergy, and upset stomach remedies.

What’s really “clean”? A budding term in a brand-new category, little to no governance is in place to regulate what products can be branded as “clean.” For the average consumer without specific allergies, the jury’s out on whether these meds are actually better for you.

Some experts, like clinical pharmacist Rebecca Barnhart, remain skeptical: “I’d view these [closer to] supplements instead of as medications.”

Next up. Welly Health and Tru-Colour give a fresh take on Band-Aids, overhauling another shelf in your medicine cabinet.

Takeaway: Clean medicine startups have a lot to contend with, from looming regulations to high research and development costs. While traditional OTC meds are probably here to stay, the clean pharma movement may prevail by carving out its own wellness category.

As Hilma co-founder Nina Mullen points out:

“There is always going to be a place for traditional drugs. We do not stand as an alternative to that. I think in the future we’ll see products like Advil standing next to our tension relief or even essential oil roll-ons… The consumer is just not satisfied with one answer and one approach.”