PFIZER JOINS EYECARE FORAYS IN ALLERGY DROPS;OCUHIST ENTERS A SMALL, THOUGH BOOMING NICHE IN OTC MARKET

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A bumper crop of allergies has triggered a competitive reaction from eyecare marketers, with Pfizer the latest to introduce antihistamine drops.

Pfizer's new OcuHist, like its rivals, is meant to deliver incremental growth in the otherwise flat eye/lenscare category, where sales rose 0.3% to $993.1 million for the year ended Feb. 25.

Pfizer, marketer of Visine, will support OcuHist with an estimated $3 million network TV campaign from May through June and again later this summer, via Partners & Shevack, New York. OcuHist will not carry the Visine name.

NAME GAME

"What we really want to do is explain what it is and separate ourselves from the competition, whose names all sound the same," said Tom Blute, Pfizer ophthalmics category manager, referring to such products as Naphcon-A, Opcon-A and Vasocon-A.

Though marketers estimate sales in the segment in the $45 million range, they say that is up 50% over last year, when antihistamine drops crossed over-the-counter. Allergy conditions-which marketers say continue to grow-have been met in recent years by a slew of line extensions and new brands such as Warner-Lambert Co.'s Benadryl.

"Allergy has spun off from cough/cold as a successful free-standing entity driven by distinct needs," said Don Stuart, partner at Cannondale Associates.

Such interest has carried over to handle specific eye reactions and not just during allergy season.

"They seem to be selling through the year for those who have dust and animal hair allergies," Mr. Blute said.

Sales for the year through Feb. 25 for Alcon Laboratories' Naphcon-A were $7.5 million; Bausch & Lomb's Opcon-A, $6.6 million; Abbott Laboratories' Clear Eyes ACR, $5.5 million; and Ciba-Geigy Corp.'s Vasocon-A, just $2.5 million, according to Information Resources Inc.

Media spending in the small segment is modest, with Bausch & Lomb supporting Opcon-A with $2.5 million in '95, via Warwick Baker & Fiore, while Abbott spent $1.5 million on Clear Eyes ACR and an additional $2.8 million on the overall brand through Publicis/Bloom, Dallas.

LATE OK

Pfizer, which is licensing OcuHist from Acorn Inc., was not approved until recently to market the product, while other brands crossed OTC last year.

To be competitive as a late entry, OcuHist will be priced around $5, vs. most others' $8.50 to $10 range.

"It's an extremely high-margin business," Mr. Stuart said. "Because they are going for problem-specific usage, the use-up rate isn't as fast as on the general product and they must take the size down while bringing the price up."

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