S.C. Johnson stumbles with AllerCare introduction

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Clorox Co. is positioning its Clorox FreshCare fabric refresher as an allergen-reducer as S.C. Johnson & Son struggles to recover from the market withdrawal of two items in its AllerCare allergy-control product line last month.

The challenge faced by the rivals: Tapping an allergy-reduction category yet to catch fire in the mass market with the country's estimated 50 million allergy sufferers. Although the total allergy-related products market, excluding drugs, is estimated at $9 billion by online allergy products marketer Gazoontite.com, sales of household products aimed at allergy reduction are well under $100 million.

$11.5 MIL IN ADS

The four-item AllerCare line debuted last fall as the first mass-market brand in the category; it was backed by $11.5 million in TV ads from FCB Worldwide, Chicago, as measured by Competitive Media Reporting.

AllerCare's dust-mite-control pesticide products rang up $7.6 million in retail sales through Jan. 2, according to Information Resources Inc., which didn't report sales figures for other products in the S.C. Johnson line.

But some users with severe allergies reported worsening of asthmatic symptoms due to high levels of fragrance in the dust-mite pesticides, said an S.C. Johnson spokeswoman. The company pulled two of the dust-mite products without issuing recalls, though consumers who ask will be offered alternative products or refunds. Dust-mite-control pillow and mattress covers in the AllerCare line remain in distribution.

The spokeswoman said the discontinued products were meeting sales expectations but the company hasn't decided whether to reformulate and reintroduce them.

"It's very difficult for any product to come back after a recall, and with a new product there's an additional difficulty," said Ken Harris, partner with the marketing consultancy Cannondale Associates. But he expects a comeback bid because "for SCJ this is a major line of products."


Overall, allergen control doesn't appear to be taking off on anywhere near the scale of anti-bacterial products, which make a similar appeal to fears of an unseen microbial enemy, said Tom Vierhile, president of Marketing Intelligence Service.

One retail buyer said Clorox's full-page national free-standing insert promotion started last month -- touting the allergen-reduction claim and offering free bottles of Clorox bleach to consumers who buy FreshCare -- has flopped. He said he'll seek a refund for extra bleach ordered in anticipation of a sales surge.

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