Is That Pollen or Profit in the Air?

It's Both -- as Record Levels of Mold and Ragweed Descend on Much of the Country, Marketers of Cough, Cold and Allergy Remedies Are Raking in the Sales

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Thank goodness for climate change -- at least if you are a marketer of cough, cold or allergy drugs.

According to allergists and researchers from the Environmental Protection Agency, levels of mold and ragweed pollen are at record levels in much of the country, leading to unprecedented allergy problems.

Sales of Mucinex's leading products more than doubled in the four weeks ended Sept. 9 compared with the year-ago period.
Sales of Mucinex's leading products more than doubled in the four weeks ended Sept. 9 compared with the year-ago period.
Some allergists say patients in their 50s and 60s are experiencing severe enough fall allergies to consult doctors about them for the first time. Other people may have confused the symptoms with late-summer or early fall colds. Either way, the increase in nasal irritation is leading to lingering sinus congestion and coughs.

And that 's great news for Merck's Claritin, Sanofi's Allegra and other marketers' cough, cold and allergy remedies after suffering through a light cold season in 2011, made worse by recall and manufacturing problems that kept many products from one of the biggest players -- Johnson & Johnson -- off store shelves. Sales of cough syrup jumped 25.6% in the eight weeks ended Aug. 12 and 19.8% for the four weeks ended Sept. 9, according to SymphonyIRI data from Deutsche Bank. Sales of cold, allergy and sinus medications, a tenfold-bigger category with annual sales of more than $4.6 billion, were up 9% and 9.9%, respectively, for the same periods in outlets that include food, drug, mass, Walmart, club and dollar stores.

Dollar sales are up faster than volume, though. And that owes to some heavy-duty marketing by Mucinex and a return of J&J brands to the shelf, which have lured more consumers away from private labels to soothe the savage sneezes. SymphonyIRI data (excluding Walmart, club and dollar stores, which are still excluded from data provided to the media) show brands have taken nearly five points of market share from private labels during the recent over-the-counter boomlet.

Sales of products from J&J's Benadryl and Tylenol brands are up by triple or quadruple percentage points for the four weeks ended Sept. 9, as J&J restores production. But Reckitt Benckiser's Mucinex also has more than doubled sales of leading products during the recent four-week period from a year ago.

"We went into this season with a strong media campaign for Mucinex Fast-Max to launch the brand's new caplets," an RB spokesman said. "We ran some high-impact print and digital to announce the launch and started it earlier on in the season to help drive that ." The agency is Euro RSCG, New York.

Then again, it helps to have the winds of climate change at your back.

"The total amount of ragweed pollen produced this year has been higher than it's ever been before in this part of the country," said Jay Portnoy, chief of allergy, asthma and immunology at Children's Mercy Hospital in Overland Park, Kan. "That's been increasing pretty much for the past 15 years."

Wethersfield, Conn., allergist Kevin McGrath said EPA studies show rising carbon-dioxide levels -- regardless of their impact on global warming -- directly increase the amount and duration of ragweed-pollen production. This year, an early spring growing season, record temperatures and drought in much of the country also contributed.

"One good volcanic eruption, and we'd still be back in the ice age," Dr. McGrath said, but a hard freeze is a better bet for short-term allergy relief.

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