Brushing up on innovation to keep consumers’ interest
Oral care manufacturers continue to focus on innovation and products that tout such added benefits as whitening and greater convenience in an attempt to boost sales within this mature category. Such efforts will be increasingly important as consumers scale back on such higher-priced discretionary items as tooth whiteners in light of the economic crunch.
According to data provided by Information Resources Inc., sales within many oral care segments experienced a decline for the 52 weeks ended Jan. 25 at food, drug and mass (excluding Walmart). In fact, tooth whiteners—which had been a bright spot in oral care for some time—experienced a 12.8% drop in total sales during that period, according to IRI. However, it should be noted that sales of Crest Whitestrips did increase 7.1% to $41.6 million, making it No. 1 among the top 10 brands provided by IRI.
It comes as little surprise that most of the growth was seen among such nondiscretionary oral care products as toothpaste, which inched up 0.3%, and mouthwash, which posted a 2.4% boost.
As further evidence of this trend, Tom Ryan, chairman, president and CEO of CVS Caremark, told analysts during its fourth-quarter conference call on Feb. 19 that, despite a boost in front-end same-store sales, it is witnessing a slow down of some discretionary items. “We’re seeing some discretionary items slow down. Whiteners, you think about things like tooth whiteners and salon hair care is slowing down because people are just trading down in those areas,” Ryan said.
However, manufacturers are hoping that innovation will help keep consumers’ attention, despite their slimming wallets. Among those is Procter & Gamble, which launched in early 2009 its new Crest Whitestrips Advanced Seal for $45 for 14 doses. Positioned as a “groundbreaking adhesive formula,” the strips temporarily mold to users’ teeth so they easily can talk and even drink while using the strips.
Church & Dwight made available in March its new Arm & Hammer Advance White Brilliant Sparkle Gel toothpaste, which promises to remove 88% more plaque and whitens teeth. In addition, Church & Dwight will introduce in May its new battery-powered Pro Whitening Sonic and Pro Clean Sonic toothbrushes, which are positioned as a more cost-effective alternative compared with other sonic toothbrushes on the market that can cost between $60 and $150. These new brushes will have a suggested retail price of $14.99.
Listerine, a Johnson & Johnson Healthcare Products brand, has rolled out for 2009 its new Listerine Total Care Anticavity Mouthwash. The rinse offers consumers six benefits in one rinse: prevents cavities, restores enamel, strengthens teeth, kills bad breath germs, freshens breath and fights plaque above the gum line.
Walgreens set to expand distribution capacity
WOBORN, Mass. Walgreens is expanding the distribution capacity at its Mt. Vernon, Ill.-based distribution center by adding more portable robotic picking devices and upgrading many of its traditional conveyor-based systems into automated zones for sortation and movement of items to be shipped.
Walgreens uses the Kiva Mobile Fulfillment System from Kiva Systems in Mt. Vernon to store inventory and pick replenishment orders for its 6,700 stores and specialty pharmacies. Expanding the system in that distribution center puts nearly 1,000 mobile robots under a single roof, according to Kiva.
The upgrade marks the third expansion of the robotic picking system at the center since its initial deployment in 2007, Kiva noted. It also heralds a doubling of the throughput capacity at the center, the company reports.
“Productivity metrics from previous rollouts far exceeded Walgreens’ specifications for pick rate, accuracy, cycle time, tote utilization and installation time,” said Kiva CEO Mick Mountz. “By doubling capacity we expect Walgreens to quickly achieve an extraordinary new level of strategic competitive advantage and productivity.”
Congress takes up follow-on biologics bill
The long-awaited breakthrough for follow-on biologics may be close at hand.
Prompted by a far more supportive President and the growing crisis in healthcare funding, Congress has again taken up the call for a bill that would create a regulatory pathway for FDA approval of generic versions of biologically-engineered drugs. And with the strong affirmation of President Obama, who has campaigned for such an approval pathway, the newest iteration of the bill stands a far better chance of passage than previous attempts in the House and Senate.
The Promoting Innovation and Access to Life-Saving Medicine Act could mark the most significant change to the delicate balance of power between the branded and generic drug industries since passage of the landmark Hatch/Waxman compromise bill in 1984, which ushered in the modern era of me-too medicines. Tellingly, one of the new bill’s sponsors is an architect of that 1984 legislation, Democratic Rep. Henry Waxman of California.
The push for follow-on biologics augers well for both health plan payers and patients coping with the sometimes staggering costs of critically important but expensive pioneer biologics, and for the generic drug industry itself as it faces a critical shortage of new marketing opportunities as the number of blockbuster drugs facing patent expirations dries up. A new pipeline of me-too biologics could help fill the gap.
“With countless patients struggling to pay the high costs of brand biopharmaceuticals, an approval pathway for safe, effective and affordable biogeneric medicines that provides access sooner rather than later is desperately needed,” stated Kathleen Jaeger, president and CEO, Generic Pharmaceutical Association.
Cost-saving considerations aside, there’s no disputing the business potential follow-on biologics represent. Bio-engineered pharmaceuticals and specialized, highly targeted medications aimed at serious chronic or life-threatening diseases represent the only major bright spot right now in the global pharmaceutical market, with growth rates that far outpace the sluggish market for mainline meds. Indeed, most of the drugs that have reached blockbuster status in recent years have been biologically engineered specialty meds.