J&J BOLSTERS BABY PRODUCTS LINE

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When it comes to personal-care products for tiny tots, Johnson & Johnson Consumer Products is inarguably the mayor of munchkin land.

But with new brands and private labels challenging J&J's sway over that turf, the company is restaging the 100-year-old Johnson's Baby Products line.

"This is the beginning of an aggressive program to strengthen [our] position as the leader in baby care and to ensure another 100 years of healthy growth," said J&J Baby Product Director Bert Schefers.

J&J said a network TV and print campaign will begin soon from Ammirati & Puris/Lintas, New York, an effort industry executives estimate will boost J&J Baby Products spending to pre-1993 levels of $20 million.

"They have been underpriced by low-price competitors, and they understand the brand has suffered some from lack of support recently. Plus they are looking for synergies with the introduction of their Johnson's Baby Healthflow nurser," said one executive familiar with the reformulated and repackaged line.

J&J won't lower pricing, but will address that issue with more than 400 million 50 cents-off coupons through December. The program includes direct mail coupons to homes as well as sampling and couponing in hospitals. There will also be cross-couponing with Healthflow.

The latest baby boomlet has spawned waves of new toiletries. At J&J Consumer Products, the late 1980s gave birth to Winnie the Pooh & Pals Bathtime Buddies, aimed at older children. S.C. Johnson & Son introduced a Fisher-Price line. Like many other new arrivals of that time, neither caught on; the Fisher-Price line is now for sale.

Despite the casualties, U.S. Census Bureau data promising 51 million kids under age 12 by the start of the 21st century are drawing more players to the estimated $700 million personal-care market for those 12 and under. Baby care accounts for half of the market, and J&J dominates that segment with a share exceeding 40%.

Colgate-Palmolive Co. executives, citing Procter & Gamble Co.'s success with Pert for Kids, maintain new products can catch on. But, noted one, "I don't see a lot of long-term big growth opportunities in the U.S. Internationally, it's a bigger story, especially in developing world markets where birth rates are higher and people can now afford these products."

Earlier this year, Helene Curtis Industries introduced the multiproduct Suave Baby Care line, priced 25% below market leaders. The products, supported by $20 million in marketing, are positioned as on a par with more expensive brands in ads from Bayer Bess Vanderwarker, Chicago.

The full line launch followed the earlier debut of Suave baby lotion, now the fastest growing baby lotion with a 17.1% share, according to Information Resources Inc. Industry executives estimate the total line has share of 7% in the baby-care category.

Due out early next year and aimed at 2-to-12-year-olds are Dial for Kids antibacterial liquid and bar soaps. And Lever Bros. is now testing Baby Dove liquid and bar soaps in New Hampshire. Colgate executives said they are working on new kids products for Softsoap but wouldn't elaborate.

And Tsumura International, a major player in the kids segment, this year introduced Lion King and Power Rangers lines.

Though the Dial products are aimed at older children, not babies, the line is expected to affect J&J's grip on toddlers. And if Baby Dove goes national, it could also have a chilling effect on J&J's bath share. J&J has 25.9% of the baby soap segment, making it second to Colgate's Mennen Baby Magic's 66.3%, according to IRI.

Sales in the segment have declined, however, presumably as price conscious moms switched to all-family soaps like Lever 2000.

"Even with all the new births, the baby-care market has been pretty flat over the last two years as consumers have become more conscious of what they are spending," said Lenka Contreras, senior analyst at Kline & Co., Fairfield, N.J. "And when it comes to older kids, most moms want to switch them to adult products rather than spend extra money on separate products."

Dial Corp., however, sees room for its Dial for Kids products. The line, supported by a joint marketing effort from DDB Needham Worldwide, Chicago, and its Griffin Bacal unit, New York, is positioned for hand washing as well as the bath.

"One of the best lessons a parent can teach a child is frequent hand washing and good overall hygiene. These products help make that a fun experience," said Mark Shook, Dial exec VP-general manager of soaps and detergents.

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