News - 2 July 2021

Sales of over-the-counter drugs and dietary supplements: up 4% in pandemic times

PMR analyses suggest that the value of sales of medicines and dietary supplements (including dietary foodstuffs) by means of all channels (pharmacies, shops and the internet) were worth just over PLN 15bn (€3.4bn) in 2020. This was almost 4% more than the figure prior to the pandemic, according to the latest PMR report “OTC market in Poland 2021. Market analysis and development forecasts for 2021-2026”. In 2020, more Poles reached for vitamins and minerals and antivirals, whereas sales of expensive, more “luxurious”, preparations fell significantly.

Robust sales of vitamins and immunity products during the year

The outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic has significantly affected the functioning of almost all areas of the economy. Restrictions on the activities of many industries, and the introduction of constraints on social and economic activity, along with the increased uncertainty, resulted in a recession which was the equivalent of 2.7% of GDP in real terms in 2020. At the same time, the labour market situation remained favourable despite the pandemic (the unemployment rate fell from 3.3% in 2019 to 3.2% in 2020).


As we forecast in the previous edition of the report, produced in April 2020, the OTC market is one of those least extensively affected by the coronavirus situation in the economy. This means that it has emerged “unscathed” from the pandemic (avoiding a decline in 2020), despite the fact that there have been reductions in sales in many categories.


Despite the reduction in demand for more luxurious and more expensive products, many OTC categories were held in high regard by consumers. At times of a pandemic, certain health problems and related needs (for vitamins, antivirals, immunity drugs, items for mental difficulties, and those for ailments associated with a more sedentary lifestyle) have also intensified, and some existing matters have been temporarily relegated to the background (including flu infections and gastrointestinal problems associated with travel).

With regard to the sales channels, the most severe restrictions affected stationary non-pharmacy outlets – we estimate that sales of medicines and dietary supplements by means of this channel fell by several percent in terms of value in comparison with 2019.


Financial deterioration and uncertainty about the future were factors which impeded OTC purchases in many categories in 2020, and for higher-priced products in particular.



Find comprehensive information about the current state of the Polish OTC market in the PMR report:


OTC market in Poland.

Market analysis and development forecasts for 2022-2027.


Market expected to remain limited in 2021

In 2021, growth on the OTC market is expected to be positive and reach a few percent, according to our forecasts. It is of interest, however, that 2021 will not see significantly substantial growth because of the weak sales in the first quarter. There was, at that time, a year-on-year reduction in the value of sales, which reflects the absence of the “panic buying” phenomenon in January and February and the high base of March 2020. Restrictions and the still relatively high degree of uncertainty present, until April 2021 in particular, also resulted in an increase in the need to reduce consumption and increase savings, consequently reducing spending, including that related to the OTC drugs and dietary supplement market. The limited mobility of Poles, which may have resulted in a lower incidence of influenza, and other ailments, was also significant.


The economic situation will have a favourable impact on the market. Growth in GDP (4.5% year on year in 2021) will return and will be maintained subsequently throughout the forecast horizon, and this year the unemployment rate will rise only nominally (to approximately 3.4%), thus remaining at a very low level.


In the following years, sales on the OTC market will grow by 4-6% per annum. They will be driven by the growing trend which sees Poles caring for their health, the increase in the scale of certain health problems in the wake of the lockdown (not least mental illnesses), and an increase in the incidence of various diseases caused by neglecting diagnostic tests and medical visits during the crisis, and those involving the cardiovascular system in particular.

Market growth will also be driven by household consumption, supported by a positive labour market situation.


Furthermore, the forecasts quite significantly reflect the demographic factor – the number of elderly people is rising, generating significant demand for drugs and dietary supplements. In the coming years, higher inflation is expected, and this will also affect the prices of pharmaceutical products and, consequently, the forecast market value.

Market definition:

The market value presented above consists of sales of OTC drugs at pharmacies (including online pharmacies) and all stationary non-pharmacy outlets (including convenience stores and petrol stations), and dietary supplements at pharmacies (including online pharmacies), and all stationary non-pharmacy outlets (including convenience stores, petrol stations and specialty shops), along with sales of dietary supplements at non-pharmacy online shops. Final prices prevail.

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Justyna Zagórska

Senior Analyst