J&J under fire for tampon supply problem

By Associated Press
Posted Jan. 19 at 1:14 p.m.

Johnson & Johnson, already under fire for a string of product recalls, has another public relations issue on its hands after its o.b. tampons temporarily disappeared from stores and little was said about what happened.

O.b. users, many of whom have a cult-like loyalty to the product, said they were outraged when they could not find the brand in stores late last year. They asked clerks why shelves were empty and demanded answers from J&J’s McNeil Consumer Healthcare unit, already under fire for recalling over 200 million bottles of Tylenol and other medicines.

J&J has not said much about why o.b., its line of applicator-free tampons, went missing. Meanwhile, users of the Ultra version in particular, which J&J has discontinued, have complained online in blogs and through social media such as Facebook.

“I know to some this issue may seem trivial but to me this is like taking my right to breathe,” said Dawn Allyn, a 44-year-old sign language interpreter from College Station, Texas, who used to use Ultra o.b. tampons.

The company said that dropping Ultra tampons, the most absorbent version, was a business decision. There were no health issues, such as reports of toxic shock syndrome, that led to the decision, which was made last September.

“To discontinue a product with huge loyalty is a surprising move when you’re already getting negative press for other issues,” said Tim Calkins, Clinical Professor of Marketing at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management.


J&J admitted that it had experienced a temporary supply interruption with o.b., apologized to women inconvenienced by it and has started shipping the goods again. It has not said exactly what happened.

This is just the latest product glitch at J&J. In 2010, it recalled millions of bottles of medications such as infant Tylenol. Earlier this month, it recalled nearly 50 million more packages of medicines, blaming cleaning procedures and other problems at a manufacturing plant.

“J&J has had an astonishing series of snafus; there’s been one problem after the next,” said Calkins. “So far it seems like the J&J brand is still holding up okay. But at some point you do begin to think that there’s going to be a long term impact.”

Store shelves sit empty where J&J’s recalled products and missing tampons had stood, or they are filled with other goods.

In the 52 weeks ended on Dec. 25, 2010, U.S. shoppers spent $830.1 million on tampons and more than 90 percent of those sales came from branded goods, according to Nielsen Co.

While o.b. is a small brand in the overall U.S. tampon category and accounts for a tiny fraction of J&J’s $61.9 billion in annual revenue, J&J has already seen McNeil’s recalls hurt its bottom line. U.S. sales of J&J’s consumer brands plunged 25 percent in the third quarter of 2009.


O.b. has a loyal customer base among women who find the tampons fit them best or who want an environmentally-friendly option without a plastic or cardboard applicator.

The product was first made in the 1940s. Gynecologist Dr. Judith Esser is credited with creating o.b. and naming it to stand for “ohne binde,” or “without napkins” in German.

Now much of its loyal following is looking elsewhere.

“You force customers to buy your competitor’s products and that’s always a dangerous approach,” Calkins said.

Allyn, who had used only o.b. since her teens, tried to find creative ways to source the product after she could not find her beloved brand. Even her ex-husband went from store to store and made phone calls trying to find them.

Allyn was going to buy them online, where individuals are capitalizing on the supply shortage, but she balked at paying high prices for a product that usually retails for less than $7 a box.

On eBay, a dozen people have already submitted bids for one of several boxes of Ultra o.b. tampons up for sale, with the price currently at $28.75. Third-party sellers who advertise their wares on Amazon.com have priced boxes of o.b. tampons as high as $79.99.

In the United States, o.b. ranks behind Procter & Gamble Co’s Tampax, Energizer Holdings Inc’s Playtex, Kimberly-Clark Corp’s Kotex and even private label, or store branded, tampons, according to data from SymphonyIRI Group, a Chicago-based market research firm.

J&J’s o.b. rang up about $38.7 million in sales in the 52 weeks ended Dec. 26, 2010, excluding sales at Wal-Mart Stores Inc , club stores such as Costco Wholesale Corp , gas stations and convenience stores, according to SymphonyIRI. Tampax Pearl, the top-selling brand, posted $178.6 million in sales.

With Ultra o.b. gone for good, Allyn switched to Playtex tampons, which she said do not work as well for her.

“I loved o.b. and their design,” she said. “I am peeved big time. This was a huge marketing mistake and should be set right.”

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  1. Yosefa Sora Jan. 19 at 4:25 pm

    Dawn Allyn is out of her mind by saying “…taking my right to breathe.” Buying a product is NOT a right. You’re lucky when you find something that works for you. They discontinue products all the time. Contact their marketing department to try to get these products reinstated, then get over it and buy something else.

  2. Ella Jan. 19 at 7:14 pm

    Having your ex-husband running around looking for tampons? Either this woman has a personality/anger problem (why is he running around looking for tampons for his EX-wife) or the guy is a pushover. I also agree with the other poster, that using tampons is NOT like the “right to breathe”. Talk about drama…maybe Dawn should tone it down a bit, or see a doctor about this rediculious addiction to OB tampons. God forbid they discontinue her favorite maxipads! We’ll all be doomed…including her ex-husband apparently.

  3. las Jan. 19 at 9:33 pm

    Ease up people. If you are a super bleeder and you find a product that helps eleviate the ruined undies, linen, chairs and more it is like a breath of fresh air. And when it is gone..

    I remember Rely Tampons….I never had an accident. One person became ill from leaving a tampon in for 2 days and we all had to loose out. I bought every box I could find.

    Love a good product

  4. herpderp Jan. 20 at 7:35 a.m.

    Tampons are stupid, pads are stupid. You should be using reusable, recyclable cups like “The Keeper” and “Luna Cup”.

    You can buy most menstrual cups at your local grocery store for crying out loud. I’ve had the same one for over 10 years now, haven’t had to buy tampons in a decade, and it’s safer for your body and better for the environment.

  5. Wat Jan. 20 at 9:26 a.m.

    To Ella and Yosefa for thinking that the woman in the article is crazy hormonal wench: wow. Just wow. For some of us, it really is that big of a deal, and you’re very fortunate if this isn’t effecting you. If you have a heavy flow, O.B’s really do work the best. Locally, my mom and I haven’t been able to find something that works as well. It is like “taking your right to breathe” when you have to go from not worrying about your period when you’re at work or school, to having to run around changing your tampon every two hours. My grandfather has actually looked for the tampons in stores every time he goes out, not because he’s forced to, but to help us, and if he’s at the store a lot anyway, why not?

    And about the Luna Cups, for some people they don’t work as well either. I like the idea of them and I tried them, but found they would still leak, and when they did it was A LOT more than a tampon would ever leak. I’m not grossed out by having to touch myself or get blood on me, but when you’re somewhere other than home and have to change one it’s a real pain. OB’s were so much discreeter and easier to deal with. They just worked better, and sure we’ll get over it and find something else, but that doesn’t mean we don’t have the right to be upset about it, because for some people it really does effect them more than others.

  6. Darwin Jan. 20 at 9:37 a.m.

    Never tust anything that bleeds for a week and doesn’t die!

  7. kare Jan. 20 at 12:56 pm

    Just use Seventh Generation applicator free tampons, just as good os O.B!

  8. Lee Jan. 20 at 4:17 pm

    Seriously, I’ve been using OB since maybe two years after I started my period, and I’m 46 now. I’ve used the occasional one-off, mostly when I was somewhere and didn’t have a backup, so I’ve pretty much tried them all — and the others (Tampax, Playtex included) are all awful. The women here who don’t understand have clearly never tried OB. They fit right, they’re very absorbent, comfortable, and just work!

    I’m grateful I had a small stash in my closet, but I’ll be out of Ultras in a few months and that makes me sad. Some number cruncher saw a way to save a few bucks, and now we all have to suffer. You only need Ultras for a day or two a month, so you only use a couple. A box lasts all year. Doesn’t mean we don’t need that box!

    And Ella, my boyfriend has been sending me links about this supply problem and helped me look in various stores; helpful and considerate men aren’t terrified by women’s products.

    Ease up, people! What’s wrong with customer loyalty?

  9. freebaseheal1 on skype Jan. 26 at 6:16 pm

    heres how i c it j&j should be sued in fed court 4 making a very poorly made decision thats has affected their bottom line. in stead of stocking stores just start selling them online directly to those who very much want that product. and still make a neat profit as well