Kline: Recalls, economy and FSA prescription requirement driving store-brand OTC growth

PARSIPPANY, N.J. — Significant product recalls and the ongoing recession have driven consumer behavior change in the OTC aisle, according to a new report published Tuesday by Kline. In addition, road blocks to savings, such as reimbursement of OTC medicines under flexible spending accounts, were recently put in place with the new requirement that those medicines now to be prescribed by a physician in order to qualify for reimbursement. Approximately 1-in-5 respondents have used FSAs to purchase OTC drugs or nutritional supplements in the past, the report noted.

According to the report, titled "Nonprescription Drugs USA – Consumer Research," consumers are addressing the economic challenges by seeking out lower-cost nonprescription drug brands either by choosing the least expensive alternative — often private-label or store-brand OTCs — or by shopping at value-focused retailers more often. Other consumers noted they are using coupons and stocking up on OTC drugs when they are on sale, regardless of need, as a result of the recession.

“The impact and profound magnitude of ongoing economic uncertainty is borne out by more than half of respondents in Kline’s survey disclosing that they’ve changed how they purchase OTC drugs," stated Laura Mahecha, Kline's healthcare industry manager. "Specifically, nearly a quarter of those surveyed choose private-label OTC drugs whenever possible because of their perceived cost advantage.”

Growth behind private-label OTC drugs was also driven by a spate of recalls over the past few years. Private-label adult acetaminophen realized a near 14% sales increase over 2010, as the largest direct beneficiary of Johnson & Johnson’s flagship brand Tylenol’s being out-of-stock for extended periods in 2010 and 2011, the report noted. Similarly, in the children’s pain-control segment, sales of private-label acetaminophen saw an increase of more than 30% compared to 2010. Competing brands Advil (Pfizer), Aleve (Bayer) and Bayer Aspirin have also enjoyed substantial sales increases in 2011, up 7.3%, 6.0% and 8.9%, respectively, over 2010 sales numbers.
“The analysis suggests that consumers, challenged by the recession and the fragility of brand loyalty, have been able to replace the recalled brands adequately over the past two years," Machecha said. "At the relaunch of recalled brands, Johnson & Johnson will need to invest heavily in brand marketing, and even after doing so, it may take several years to regain a fraction of the brand’s previous sales and market shares.”

Last week, Louise Mehrotra, Johnson & Johnson VP investor relations, told analysts that McNeil would be fielding a limited portfolio featuring key brands through 2013.

"It's awfully difficult to predict the pace at which we will ramp up, but we will obviously not be spending on the relaunch of those products until we are confident that the supply situation is stabilized and we can provide a consistent supply to the market," added Dominic Caruso, J&J VP finance and CFO. "So, I think we are going to monitor that and not get too far ahead of that quite frankly, because we want to ensure that there is first a consistent supply of product; and then of course, we will invest significantly behind that once we achieve that. As we said before, we think the return of the products at the market will continue for the balance of 2012 and into 2013."

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