Now, though, J&J appears to be ever-so-gingerly regaining its battered footing and will soon resume shipments of Tylenol Cold & Flu Severe caplets, according to The Wall Street Journal, which came across an internal message to employees that notes production was shifted to a plant in Italy.
Assuming J&J can follow through on its target, the resumption would occur "within weeks," which would be just about when flu season begins. Such a move is critical to J&J's McNeil Consumer Healthcare unit, which has seen its long-standing and treasured positioning on store shelves evaporate over the past year.
Regaining shelf space, however, may not be a slam dunk. The protracted production problems and subsequent product shortages have allowed rivals, notably those manufacturers that make store brands, to supplant J&J over-the-counter meds. To reclaim its positioning, J&J may find itself offering deals and concessions that were previously unnecessary.
The other piece to this corporate puzzle is the extent to which consumers will return to the venerable brand name, especially after rounds of publicity over musty smells and metallic flecks that were blamed for the flood of recalls. Moreover, the ongoing shortages may have prompted some consumers to decide to stick with other brands and such behavior may continue, especially if price wars break out.
Last year, the problems cost J&J about $900 million in lost sales and Wells Fargo Securities analyst Larry Biegelsen has estimated in his investor notes that J&J may lose more than $1 billion in sales this year from the manufacturing difficulties. The problems, by the way, are not expected to be resolved for months, suggesting J&J will continue to struggle to regain lost shelf space for quite some time.
Just the same, the Journal notes that J&J cfo Dominic Caruso tried to rally Wall Street recently by declaring that "products are coming back on the market. The business is recovering." In fact, the paper points out that a grape-flavored version of children's Tylenol, recently showed up in stores and Pepcid Complete tablets should begin shipping later this year. But whether production resume fast enough is unclear, given that the consent decree requires independent certification.