S.C. Johnson & Son last week said it would roll out its AllerCare line of allergen-fighting products nationally this fall.
The line includes dust mite-controlling pillow covers and mite-neutralizing aerosol spray and carpet cleaner, each retailing for around $4.99.
The move follows Unilever's restaging of its All Ultra Free Clear laundry detergent in January as an "Allergen Fighter," backed by print ads from Ammirati Puris Lintas, New York.
The interest by these major players adds to the numerous products from smaller companies launched in recent years -- enough to stock the virtual shelves of Gazoontite.com, an allergy products site that opened last week, with 600 products. AllergySuperstore.com also is being started.
The number of allergy and asthma sufferers has been growing four times faster than the general population during the past 20 years, said Soon-Chart Yu, a former Clorox Co. brand manager who founded Gazoontite.
"It used to be two or three degrees of separation before you knew somebody personally who had allergies," he said. "Now almost everybody knows somebody pretty close who has allergies."
Fueling the allergy products trend may be an increase in both incidence and awareness, said physicians and new-product experts.
"Probably 20% to 30% of the population has allergies, and it's certainly getting a lot of advertising" from prescription drug manufacturers, said Abba Terr, director of the Stanford University Allergy Clinic and a member of the medical advisory board for Gazoontite.
Allergies appear to be a growing problem, but Dr. Terr said researchers have reached no definite conclusions as to why. Everything from tighter houses to changing immune systems may be to blame.
Increased awareness spurred by direct-to-consumer drug ads and the success marketers have had with antibacterial products may also have fueled interest.
Mr. Yu became aware of a growing number of allergy products while working at Clorox. He expects to see a growing flood of mass-market products from package-goods marketers.
S.C. Johnson's AllerCare appears to be the biggest venture to date, with products going to retailers in August. Advertising from Foote, Cone & Belding, Chicago, breaks in the fall.
S.C. Johnson would not disclose media spending figures or the campaign's exact timing. In the fourth quarter of 1998, AllerCare was supported with about $271,000 in spot TV in test markets in eastern Tennessee and Tulsa, Okla., according to Competitive Media Reporting.
Among other products launched in recent years: CNS Inc.'s Breathe Right Allergen Barrier Pillow Covers, in the U.S., and Reckitt & Colman's Mortein Dust Mite