|The Taking of Allegra 1 2 3: The 2011 Remake|
|April 13, 2011 by Donald Riker, PhD|
In Italian “allegra” means “cheerful", "merry”, or “bright”. The launch of Allegra into the OTC allergy market challenges the notion that a late-to-market entry can’t win. Given that a store brand launch of fexofenadine is imminent the going sales of Allegra will not be apparent until mid-2012.
Allegra (Sanofi), or fexofenadine, is arguably the best of the non-sedating anti-histamines. It displays no dose-related sedation, works well, and is fast acting. Launched into the prescription market in 1996 Allegra was recently launched into the OTC market by the Sanofi subsidiary Chattem. Taken on its own merits Allegra OTC has every reason to succeed yet the fact remains that it’s 8 years late to market after Schering’s OTC launch of Claritin (Jan, 2003), and 3 years behind J&J’s Zyrtec (Jan, 2008). The track record of third or fourth-to-category OTC launches is not an inspiring one. Allegra is Chattem/Sanofi’s first US Rx/OTC switch effort and Chattem’s first entry into the category and its largest launch ever.
The competitive superiority of these non-sedating products was mostly fought out during their prescription days a decade, or so, ago at company sponsored symposia held at allergy conventions. These contests looked for differences in speed of onset, sedation and efficacy. In addition much was made of whether one, or the other, was approved to treat seasonal, or year-round allergy, or both, a claimable advantage. Judging from the current state of the consumer market these distinctions are becoming less apparent and less compelling. Claims support trials in the consumer population may be required to make harder claims and these are not often funded.
Recognizing the presence of established store brand versions of Claritin and Zyrtec Allegra enters the consumer market as the third branded entry and the fifth entry overall. Soon Perrigo/Teva will introduce a store brand version of Allegra likely in time for the fall allergy season. So Allegra will become one of six choices at point of sale. Presently much money is being spent on promotional activity; CVS, Walgreens, and Walmart are aflood with dark magenta banners, end-caps, and other displays. To thwart these efforts Claritin, Zyrtec and store brands are doing likewise, but perhaps in less startling colors. Oddly, and adding to the commotion, Allegra’s packaging colors mimic P&G’s Prilosec OTC often seen near-by in similar aisle displays. Category couponing of $2-$6 and near parity line pricing among branded competitors make for a somewhat leveled playing field.
Initial flights of Allegra ads sought to retain the loyalty of their prescription users. Currently their ads claim that Allegra uniquely provides speed, duration, and non-drowsy benefits, a kind of veiled superiority platform that does not make outright comparative claims. Reminiscent of fast food campaigns the brand’s tagline is: “Have It All” with Allegra. However, the only reference to its speed of onset on the Allegra website is a tiny footnote claiming “works at hour one”. The uniqueness of these claims may be open to competitive challenge. Print ads in the leading allergy journal use the non-sequitur: "Stops symptoms, not patients" (?).
In addition to advertising the stage is set for competitive fights in the aisle. Allegra faces some significant hurdles as a late-to-market entry. Here are some basic tasks: maintaining brand loyalty of Rx Allegra users who now will pay out-of-pocket and may defect, taking share from entrenched competitors Claritin and Zyrtec, fending off lower priced store brands, and maintaining competitive share of voice over time. Less obvious issues exist too. For example, two strong prescription brands remain: Schering’s Clarinex and Sanofi’s Xyzal. That’s right Sanofi has a commercial interest on both sides of the fence. One wonders what share of prescription Allegra users Sanofi hopes to convert to Xyzal. This split interest presents a head wind for Allegra OTC if it reduces the flow of Rx to OTC buyers.
Another not so obvious issue is that Allegra and its branded competitors are space hogs on the retail shelf. For example, Allegra’s mostly empty, purple box takes up 3-times its bottle’s width on the retail shelf. How long after the promotional launch phase will retailers give up this valuable shelf space for increased shelf turns?
After the pipelining and promotional activity dies down it is very likely that Allegra will have a sales volume less than its most optimistic forecasts. When this begins to happen over the summer Allegra will then face the launch of cheaper fexofenadine store brands. Thus, the true measure of launch success will only be apparent after the spring 2012 allergy season, or in June, 2012, as the category “settles down”.
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