Sales of Mosquito Repellent Soar Ahead of U.S. Zika Outbreak Threat

SCJ Starts U.S. TV Ads for Off! Earlier Than Usual After Sales Surge in Latin America

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Sales of mosquito repellent are running roughly 10 times levels of a year ago in Latin America, even faster than two months ago, due to the spread of mosquito-borne Zika virus, according to SC Johnson, maker of Off! And even before mosquito season hits in the U.S., sales here are already running roughly double what they were a year ago, according to the company.

Even so, SCJ is seeing no shortages yet as it keeps up with demand on both continents by running factories "24/7" a spokesman said.

Demand is only likely to escalate if, as expected, mosquito-borne cases of Zika come to the U.S. mainland. Last week, Anne Schuchat, principal deputy director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, deemed prospects for a U.S. outbreak "a bit scarier than we initially thought."

The CDC reports that mosquito species that can carry the virus have in past years reached as far north and west as New York, Philadelphia, Los Angeles, Cincinnati, Columbus and Kansas City in addition to all of the Southeast and Texas.

The CDC confirmed Zika is responsible for severe birth defects in children born to infected women. So far cases in the continental U.S. have been confined to people infected while traveling elsewhere or having it sexually transmitted by people who got the disease while traveling. But the CDC said mosquito-borne infections already have occurred in Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands and American Samoa.

CVS plans to ramp up its mosquito repellant marketing next month in more than 4,000 stores, said a spokeswoman. The drugstore chain will also include informational signage and pamphlets on its shelves to educate customers about protection from the Zika virus, she said.

SCJ so far has focused on an educational website and education efforts for retailers, the spokesman said. But data from iSpot.tv show Off! also launched its first TV advertising of the season on Saturday, about a month ahead of when it has launched seasonal advertising the past two years.

"Every day, you're thankful for the ones you love," says the voice-over for a new 15-second spot for Deep Woods Off!. "And every day, you promise to protect them."

Even before the campaign began running, SCJ's sales in the insecticide and repellents category (of which mosquito sprays are only part), were up nearly 42% for the four weeks ended March 8 vs. a year ago, according to Nielsen data from Deutsche Bank. Despite that, the company actually lost share in the business.

The spike came despite SCJ's share of product sold on promotion in the category falling more than six percentage points to 21.7% vs. levels for the full year, the Nielsen figures show. So while retailers such as Target and Walgreens already have stepped up display of mosquito repellents, price promotion is likely unnecessary.

Spectrum Brands, which markets rival repellent Cutter, has seen its sales in insecticides and repellents rise an even faster 48% for the most recent four-week period, with only 8% of product sold on promotion during the four weeks ended March 8 vs. 21% for the full year.

Helping avoid the appearance of profiteering, SCJ is promising up to $15 million in donations of repellents in the U.S. and Latin America this season, announcing donations last week to community groups in Florida and Ecuador.

Even before Zika, Orkin was seeing an increase in demand for mosquito prevention and treatment services last year, with revenue in the area up 9.6%, said Martha Craft, VP of public relations and corporate communications for parent company Rollins. Concerns about mosquito-born West Nile virus, chikungunya, dengue fever and canine heartworm already were driving interest in mosquito treatment last year, she said. And the company is seeing an increase in inquiries at its call centers and branches.

Orkin has stepped up training on mosquitoes for its pest-management personnel and is sharing research on Zika and CDC news through its website and Facebook page.

Contributing: Adrianne Pasquarelli