For most of the year, millions of migraine sufferers who swear by Excedrin have had to find pain relief elsewhere. But nine months after a voluntary recall left store shelves empty, the manufacturer of the over-the-counter pain reliever says production is once again underway.
Novartis (NYSE: NVS) CEO Joseph Jimenez says production at the company’s Lincoln, Nebraska plant has restarted and Excedrin is expected to be available early next month in limited supply.
The company shut down production at the plant in January when it discovered that bottles of Excedrin contained stray tablets from other Novartis products, or from painkillers produced at the same plant.
The recall followed a scathing inspection report from the FDA about production and other practices at the plant that documented numerous instances of contamination and a failure by Novartis officials to investigate customer complaints.
Since then, as consumers scrambled to find a substitute pain medication, Novartis has lost more than $500 million in sales of over-the-counter drugs in the first half of 2012.
To restore consumer confidence, Novartis has turned to social media. On its Facebook page, the company thanked its fans for their patience and their loyal support. In a recent post, the company said it expects Excedrin Migraine to return to shelves in October and is working to get Excedrin Extra Strength back on store shelves as soon as possible
And though brand loyalty can go a long way, some experts question how much longer Novartis can weather this storm.
An article in Adweek questioned what the magazine called “vague answers on Facebook to customers asking why the process is taking so long” and warned that as rivals move in and consumers swap painkilling tips on Facebook, the branding investments behind Excedrin is “going down the proverbial toilet.”
“Recalls are notoriously toxic for brands, [especially] if the error is squarely associated with the brand, not outsiders,” said James Cockerille, director of strategy at FutureBrand North America. “Recalls flatten brand appeal and stifle positive word-of-mouth exchange.”
The absence of the Excedrin in the marketplace forces people to consider rival products they used to ignore, Cockerille said. “The preference they hoped to create for their brand name over generics will be wasted.”
According to a report by the Mintel International Group, product recalls among major brands have resulted in large sales losses, leading to a 5% dip in overall category sales from 2006 to 2011.
The study also noted that a rise in the sale of private label products occurs when consumers find that the brand names they trusted are fallible, and seek the availability and cost savings of store products.
In fact, the ingredients found in several house brand pain relievers sold at CVS, Target and Walgreens are identical to the 250 milligrams of acetaminophen, 250 mg of aspirin, and 65 mg of caffeine found in Excedrin Migraine.
But for many die-hard Excedrin fans, there’s just no substitute for their pain medication of choice. With more than 288,000 likes on its Facebook page, consumer loyalty to Excedrin doesn’t appear to be on the wane just yet.
“For the love of all that is good and holy in this world, please get this back on the shelves ASAP! Nothing else works” wrote Debi Clough.