Ricola ™ versus CVS “Natural Herb” Cough Drops


Among other things, I’ve had a really bad cough for over two weeks now. I’m sick of being sick. So I guess I’ll just do the “bloggy” thing and write obsessively about my product encounters during this time.

Ich Bin Ein Krauter Zucker RICOLA:  I’ve always been a fan of this premium brand of cough drops. If I’m going through a lot of them, I’ll sometimes vary them with a good ‘ol HALLS Menthol / Honey-Lemon / vapor-action whatever lozenge here and there, just to keep things fresh and interesting.

 CVS “Natural Herb” Cough DropsThis time around however, I decided to try out the world of generics and went with CVS‘s “Natural Herb” Cough Drops.  As usual, CVS had its private label brand placed next to the Ricola, for about a dollar less, with packaging that echoed Ricola’s, and yet somehow said, “this is a cheaper alternative.” 

A couple of other things jumped out to me right away.  For one thing, although the packaging had the expected “Compare to the active Ingredient of Ricola” messaging on it, the active ingredient in this case is 4.8 mg of Menthol in each drop.  Alpine Herbs of RicolalandFor those who are fans of Ricola, you know that the “Ricola difference” isn’t in the Menthol (which is a widely used cough suppressant / oral anesthetic). Rather what defines Ricola is a rock-hard, almost rustic, rectangular drop, with a  unique taste. Ahh yes, the superbly delicate blend of Ricola herbs (which are presumably hand-plucked by quaintly dressed villagers from the base of the Swiss Alps), with its strong notes of anise, fennel and honey… it’s enough to make me yodel with delight. 

Well, even without the mountain-scape that Ricola has on its outer packaging, CVS was thoughtful enough to include a graphic of some flowering herbs on the bag. This image said a lot more to me than a statement about 4.8 mg of Menthol.  The ingredients list was in alphabetical order and included all that great stuff Ricola has: blackberry leaves, chamomile, cowslip, elderblossom, eucalyptus leaves (ok, maybe it doesn’t all come from the Alps), fennel, Iceland moss (?), licorice, lungwort, marigold, sage and yarrow. I left a few out because, ya know, I don’t want to obsess over this or anything. You get the picture.

The other thing that I noticed was the “Product of Switzerland” note on the back of the CVS package.  Dieses Ist Nicht Der Krauter ZuckerThe plot thickened as I opened up the package and saw that each drop was wrapped in a strange, un-CVS-like wrapper, which said “ORIGINAL SWISS QUALITY” on it, with a drawing of a mountainpeak.  Is this a case of Ricola producing its own generic version?  It wouldn’t be the first time a company did that.

But then, I tasted it… and it wasn’t exactly the same.  The anise was still there… but those notes had faded to the faintest of distant yodels… and there was, in fact, a stronger MENTHOL taste.  Also, although the shape was similar, but slightly rounded, with a more consistent ribbing that seemed more regular, dare I say, mechanical than the might-be-hand-pressed look of Ricola. The texture was different, almost imperceptibly softer and less crystalline / brittle to the teeth.   Wow, this is interesting you say… absolutely riveting.  Hey, don’t make fun of me, you’re the one taking the time to read this. Ha! 

The plot thickens: For all my thoughts of how clever the Ricola folks have been to preserve their unique brand experience even while capturing that extra bit of market share from ever-more powerful retailers (thus reinforcing my sense of brand loyalty me being the post-consumerist consumer that I am), I actually find that the CVS brand works better for my cough than the original Ricola’s does.  I go back to CVS to pick up another bag.  Then I notice something else.

There are two prices for the bag of 21 CVS “Natural Herb” cough drops: $1.69 and $1.49.   But on further inspection, I notice that these are actually two different products:  The cheaper one does not say “Compare to the active Ingredient of Ricola.”   (It does, in fact, contain the same 4.8 mg of Menthol per drop.) Ricola vs CVS This other product has the same graphics (images of flowering herbs), except for one detail:  The picture of the cough drop is actually oval/lozenge shaped, although the same dark brown color.  Finally, the coup de grace, it is NOT a Product of Switzerland.  

 Well, I’m really intrigued now. So I buy a bag of each to compare. 

Cough Drop Comparison

Having the lozenge shape, these other cough drops have a more comfortable tactile feel , resting neatly between my tongue and the roof of my mouth. As for the taste, it is as if they took it one step further removed from the distinctive herbal-ness of the Ricola taste and closer to the world of general, sugary cough drops.  3rd genThe anise is almost gone, a mere echo of a yodel of years gone by. The villagers and their quaint costumes have left, the Alps are gone, and all that can be heard is the beep-beep-beep of a truck backing out of a distribution facility in Woonsocket, Rhode Island.  

 I say this, and yet, I think these cough drops work even better.  At least for today. 

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POSTSCRIPT

A few days after doing my initial taste test / comparison, I noticed something strange in the ingredient list of the Ricola’s and CVS cough drops:
ricola_vs_cvs_ingredients.gif

It seems that the listed ingredients of the original Ricola’s (column 1) are closer to those of the oval shaped CVS throat drops (column 3), and very different than the CVS Ricola-wannabe (column 2) throat drops. While all three have the key flavor of peppermint, as well as sage and thyme, as you can see in the chart above, the first and third samples overlap almost entirely, with mallow as the only deviation.

Not only that, but there are a number of key items in common between #1 and #3 which don’t appear in #2, including hyssop and horehound (a traditional medicinal herb, sometimes referred to as Common Horehound, which doesn’t sound much better).

Both #1 and #3 are heavy on the peppermint flavor and have lemon balm. While I’ve always associated Ricola with an anise flavor, said herb is not mentioned in #1 or #3… it’s only with #2 that has both star anise and licorice listed as ingredients.

It could be that one of the other herbs in the Ricola mix have that anise-like flavor. Or it could be that I was imagining it. Or… it could be that Ricola doesn’t list all of the herbs in its proprietary formula. Of course, these ingredient lists should be taken with a grain of wild thyme. Most of these herbs are in such small quantities that they probably don’t require being stated on an ingredient list, and therefore, their inclusion is voluntary. Therefore, it is a form of marketing.

There is the possibility that the private-label “Original Swiss Quality” (#2) was executed with a stricter requirement of listing minute amounts of potentially allergenic substances.
Or it could be that CVS decided that the “Original Swiss Quality” private label lozenges were not close enough to the Ricola taste, and found a formula that better matches it.
The color and translucence of #1 and #3 as seen through the light of my scanner is certainly a better match. Perhaps #2 is cloudier because of all that crazy cowslip.
I’m beginning to suspect #3 actually does taste more like #1, but it could just be the peppermintiness. I’d like to say that I can do a definitive taste test (crush it up into powder, maybe?) but if you take enough of these throat drops as I have, it’s hard to tell anything apart.

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About danspira

My blog is at: http://danspira.com. My face in real life appears at a higher resolution, although I do feel pixelated sometimes.

Posted on April 12, 2007, in Marketing, Uncommon Comestibles. Bookmark the permalink. 13 Comments.

  1. Christmas Anonymouse

    fabulous! As I suck down gaggles of lozenges, I can taste it now.

  2. Haha wow this article shows some dedication. Its interesting to me though because I stumbled on the Original Ricola ™ in my kitchen when searching to relieve my throat and I was impressed by its natural herb flavor, it is much better in my opinion than the cranberry Ricolas, although the oval shape would be nice. It also leaves that phenomenal throat lozenge aftertaste that lasts for a good 5 minutes.

  3. I came across this post from a google search to refresh my memory of cough drops varieties- a friend offered to some pick up on their way over. But I stayed to read the well written investigative-journalism. Definitely an entertaining read :o) Thanks!

  4. Interesting read indeed… I was bored and did a goole search on ‘Krauter zucker’ as I saw on the Ricola wrapper, and this came up. Yes I read the whole article… fun read. Next time I buy generics, I will take a closer look at the ingredients and see what the differences are… Thanks

  5. I have checked many also. The one problem is that the good ones do have artificial sweetener, corn fructose syrup, sucrose, aspartame (this is poison, the very worst because slowly accumulates in your brain to become a brain tumor – see documentary Sweet Misery). WHY don’t these companies simply use sugar or Estivia for low sugar? They are natural!
    I only buy drops that have sugar or natural sweeteners. Ricola appears to be nice and effective, but the ingredients as sweeteners leave much to say. They use sugar in other products, but the one that supposedly is the best already has sucrose and fructose syrup (proven already that s harmful to health). The other ingredients that seems dangerous is their use of soybean unnecessary ingredient that does more harm than good (it contains MSG-harmful for your brain-it makes a sieve out of you brain and slowly makes us dumb- We would not notice it because we do not have the capacity to see our inner brain how slowly our intelligence is taken away from us). Why these companies do not really research about each ingredient that they use. They probably already know about them. Why MSG? Because it is a food enhancer so we become addicted to them. Business and profit is more important then our own lives. They want us to be hooked to their product and believe that they are good and produce good quality products. Do they? I am not sure. We must read all the ingredients in the labels and stop buying these products that may stop our cough, but at what price in a long run? Do they really care about us? I do not think so. Let us see if they read this message and do something about protecting our while beings.

  6. Teresa Mizelle ~facebook

    I really stumbled on this blog because my brother (older) said that he does not use ricola because it has ingredients included that is made from pigs. I am searching to find out if this statement is true. If anyone (other than my brother) can verify the ingredient which Ricola has in it that is pork, please let me know~I am curious????

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