More than two years after pulling the controversial talc-based baby powder off US and Canadian shelves, Johnson & Johnson (J&J) is still supplying South African retailers with the product and has given no real date of when the product will be officially pulled from local shelves.
J&J announced its plans to pull the product off North American shelves in 2020 after it says demand for the product was driven down by what the company calls “misleading talc litigation advertising that caused global confusion and unfounded concern about the safety of talc-based Johnson’s Baby Powder.”
The American multinational pharmaceutical and consumer packaged goods giant in August 2022 made a further announcement that it would be discontinuing its talc-based baby powder product globally in 2023.
Read: Johnson & Johnson drops baby powder globally as lawsuits mount
It noted at the time that the group is set to transition to an all-corn-starch-based formula, but no specific cut-off date for production of the talc product was cited.
Moneyweb asked J&J’s SA office when consumers can expect the products to disappear off local shelves, and the group responded that it was planning to slow down the production of the product in the first quarter of next year.
Johnson’s Baby Powder is the biggest baby powder brand in the country.
J&J admitted that it was still supplying the baby powder to local retailers.
Worth noting is that once J&J discontinues the talc-based baby powder range, South Africans won’t get the benefit of the immediate switch to J&J’s new corn-starch-based range.
“Due to capacity constraints at this time, our corn-starch-based powder offering is not expected to be available in South Africa in 2023,” it said.
“Consumers can continue to purchase talc-based Johnson’s Baby Powder until product supply runs out,” it added.
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Previous news reports on J&J show that the company has been fighting off concerns around its talc-based products either in the courts or the public domain as far back as 2016.
Despite the company referring to safety concerns around its talc-based products as “unfounded” in 2016, the company was ordered to pay $72 million in damages to a woman’s family in the US after she died of ovarian cancer. In that case a Missouri state jury linked the woman contracting cancer to the use of J&J’s talc-based baby power.
Since then, the company has had to defend its products in thousands of lawsuits – paying out billions of dollars in damages – as complainants continue to come forward with claims that J&J talc containing products were linked to several cancer cases.
Closer to home, JSE-listed manufacturer of fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) Tiger Brands this year also had to deal with its own baby powder drama when it was forced to recall some of its talc-based products under the Purity and Elizabeth Anne brands.
This came after traces of asbestos – a known Carcinogen – were detected in test samples of its products.
The Purity Essentials Baby Powder and Purity & Elizabeth Anne’s Essentials Baby Powder in the 100g, 200g and 400g bottle sizes as well as the 400g Purity and Elizabeth Anne’s Fresh Baby Powder were all included in Tiger Brands’s product recall in September.
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In a trading statement it released later that month, Tiger Brands said the precautionary recall was expected to cost the company up to R25 million in product write-offs and logistics costs related to the recall.
Moneyweb asked Tiger Brands’s CEO Noel Doyle at the release of the company’s full-year financials in early December whether the group plans to bring back the talc-based product. His response was that there is no real certainty when the product will make its return to retail shelves.
“We have suspended the production of that [its talc baby powder range], and we haven’t made any decisions about bringing that product back to the market as yet,” said Doyle.
He added that the group didn’t have any specific timelines on when the product would return, however, for Tiger Brands, the discontinuation of the two affected products is not yet on the table as an option.
Unlike J&J, Tiger Brands already has a corn-starch baby powder in stores offering consumers an alternative in the absence of the talc product.
Despite the negative attention that has befallen the talc-based product in recent years, JSE-listed healthcare retailer Clicks told Moneyweb that this has not deterred its customers from buying the products.
Clicks has its own range of baby powders – both those containing talc as well as a corn-starch offering – under the Made4baby branding and under its house brand. However, it didn’t directly respond to questions about whether it plans to cut its production of the talc-based product from its range given the health concerns surrounding the ingredient.
Instead, in a statement to Moneyweb Clicks spokesperson Vikash Singh said: “This product recall [by Tiger Brands] did not affect Clicks Made4Baby Baby Powder. All talc used in this [our] product range has been independently tested and confirmed to be asbestos free.”
“For customers that prefer a talc free option, Clicks Baby Powder Corn Starch in 100g and 200g is readily available. This product is specially formulated for baby’s delicate skin to assist in absorbing excess moisture, helps prevent chafing and leaves skin dry and comfortable,” Singh added.
Clicks further went on to note that it is not experiencing product shortages at its stores just yet as a result of the events that have troubled both J&J and Tiger Brands.
Moneyweb approached Dis-chem – also a major player in the retail pharmacy space – for comment. However, the JSE-listed group declined to comment.
Listen to Fifi Peters speaking to Tiger Brands CEO about the baby powder recall (or read the transcript):
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