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Flu Gives Reckitt Benckiser Plc (RB.L) and Johnson & Johnson (JNJ) a Needed Shot


1/14/2013 7:12:06 AM

The New York Post dubbed the Big Apple "Flu York City." Boston declared a health emergency amid four flu-related deaths and a tenfold rise in serious flu cases vs. last year. Nationally, the percentage of doctor visits due to flu is way ahead of last year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which finds the flu widespread in 44 states. The CDC expects cases to peak later this month or next, meaning the worst is yet to come. It all adds up to great news for cough-and-cold marketers. What is shaping up to be the worst flu season in a decade is proving to be a windfall for the category just as competition was heating up between new leader Reckitt Benckiser and the company it bypassed, Johnson & Johnson. 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 marketer. 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 Nielsen. 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 Havas Worldwide, 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 visitors.

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