Flu season gives sales of germ fighters a big boost

Shoppers are scooping up everything from hand sanitizer to disinfecting spray along with cough syrup and other cold remedies.

By Jonathan Berr Jan 15, 2013 8:12AM
Image: Sick child -- Bananastock, age fotostockReckitt Benckiser (RBGLY), Clorox (CLX) and GOJO Industries, maker of Purell hand sanitizer, may win big as the U.S. faces its worst flu season in years.

Reckitt Benckiser, a U.K. conglomerate, has amassed a formidable array of over-the-counter remedies over the past few years, including Mucinex, Cepacol and Delsym, an investment in a $6.5 billion market that Advertising Age says is paying off. The company has gained market share at the expense of Johnson & Johnson (JNJ), maker of Tylenol, which has been hurt by bad publicity stemming from numerous product recalls and federal investigations.

The company says its cough and cold sales totaled just under $100 million for the month ended Dec. 22, a 22% increase from a year earlier.

Reckitt also owns Lysol cleaners, which is surging in popularity. Sales of Lysol disinfectants have risen 17% while liquid-cleaner sales jumped 24% in the four weeks ended Dec. 22, according to Advertising Age, citing Nielsen data. Reckitt's diverse product lineup also includes Dr. Scholl's foot care products, French's mustard and Durex, the world's top-selling condom brand.

Clorox, the largest bleach maker, has seen gains of 12% in disinfectant sales and a 27% increase in wipe sales in the latest 12 weeks for which data is available, the publication says. The company is heavily emphasizing how its product can prevent the spread of germs. Neither company was immediately available for comment.

Closely held GOJO Industries has seen a spike in demand for Purell, the top selling hand sanitizer.

"GOJO anticipates increased demand during winter germ season and adjusts production accordingly as part of our planning process," writes Samantha Williams, a company spokeswoman, in an email, declining to be more specific.

--Jonathan Berr is fighting a nasty bug that his flu shot didn't anticipate. He doesn't own shares of the listed stocks. Follow him on Twitter @jdberr.

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