RB, which acquired its way into the U.S. cough-cold business
with the 2007 acquisition of Mucinex and Delsym and the 2011
acquisition of Cepacol, now commands a market that Deutsche Bank
pegs as $6.5 billion annually, based on Nielsen data. Private-label
leads brands in most segments, but RB is the top brand
For the four weeks ended Dec. 22, RB posted cough-cold sales of
just under $100 million, a leap of 22% over a year ago and double
the 10% growth pace to $773 million for the full year, according to
RB's rise in the cough, cold and allergy business in recent
years owes partly to the collapse of Johnson & Johnson's sales
following quality issues and recalls that first surfaced in late
2010. But the healthy growth for Mucinex and Delsym has also been
propelled by an aggressive RB marketing effort. The push, led by
includes a caplet version of Mucinex FastMax expectorants and a
FastMax Sinus product, plus geo-targeted and symptom-targeted ads
and local promotions driven by data from symptom searches by WebMD
RB has been on top of the trends nearly in real time, thanks to
a combination of WebMD, Google and CDC data, said Laurent Faracci,
general manager-U.S. marketing. It's also evaluating results from a
partnership with Drugstore.com to provide free overnight shipping
on cold and flu products.
"Last year we gained share in a very weak season," Mr. Faracci
said. And this year, RB is gaining share in a strong season,
pushing the company's overall U.S. retail sales measured by Nielsen
up 4% for the latest 12 weeks and 8% for the latest four vs. 2% for
the full year.
"We were ready" for cold and flu season, said Mr. Faracci, with
an effort that focuses on treatment via OTC remedies and prevention
with its Lysol brand. They were represented together in retail
Lysol has seen a 17% rise in disinfectant and 24% rise in
liquid-cleaner sales for the four weeks ended Dec. 22, per the
Nielsen data, a spike that also appears linked to flu concerns.
Bleach king Clorox, too,
has been lifted by the flu. Its sales of disinfectants and wipes
are up 12% and 27%, respectively, for the latest 12 weeks for which
data are available. Clorox marketing efforts led by DDB Worldwide, San
Francisco, have focused heavily on preventing the spread of colds,
flu and other bugs at home and school, said Mary O'Connell, global
director of digital and public relations.
Earlier misery propelled the cough-cold-allergy category as a
whole, which was up 8% for the four weeks ended Dec. 22 and 5% for
the full year due to an unusually long and strong allergy season.
With less inventory, J&J didn't benefit as much as RB: Its
full-year sales of $658 million rose 18%, according to the Nielsen
But the company is getting its distribution back on track. Its
cough-cold sales were up 38% for the four weeks ended Dec. 22, and
with doctor visits due to flu eight weeks ahead of the last
moderately severe traditional flu season in 2007-2008, it couldn't
be a better time for J&J. However, its production won't be
fully up and running until at least later this year, as it makes
fixes required by a consent decree with the Food and Drug
Even so, J&J is poised to benefit somewhat: It has resumed
more production of Tylenol cold and flu remedies as well as
relaunched Children's Motrin in recent months, putting new
advertising behind the latter via JWT, a spokeswoman said.
Combined with Tylenol sales, that's returned J&J to
leadership in the relatively small children's liquid-analgesic
market, according to SymphonyIRI data for the four weeks ended Dec.
2 -- a potentially good omen as J&J looks to eventually resume
full production for its bigger Tylenol tablet business and a
portent of a bigger battle with RB to come.
It's not just the respiratory flu that's making people sicker
and packaged-goods companies richer. A new strain of intestinal
norovirus from Australia entered the U.S. in recent months, driving
what the CDC projects as a 50% rise in viral stomach illnesses.