Merck reports strong growth in new vitamin combinations

Related tags Cent Dietary supplement

Adding value to mature vitamin supplements by combining them with
new ingredients is driving good growth at Merck's consumer health
care business, reports Dominique Patton.

The unit, which makes a third of its turnover from vitamin and mineral supplements, reported a 9.6 per cent increase in sales yesterday to €352 million.

Much of the growth has come from products like Bion3, a multivitamin with added probiotics, which saw a 55 per cent increase in sales in France and 28 per cent growth in the UK.

"This product concept is still unique in the UK market,"​ said Martino Fusca, head of strategic marketing at Merck Consumer Health Care.

He told that a strong marketing and PR campaign by the Seven Seas business helped to raise awareness of probiotics when it first launched the product, known as Multibionta Advanced Formula in the UK, in 1999.

Since then, the innovative concept has been well-received.

"There has been no real innovation in multivitamins in the last years. There was a need to offer added value to consumers,"​ said Fusca.

"People are looking for completeness of vitamins, expecting to receive everything they need for that day. Probiotics offer another benefit for daily health maintenance."

The company has also introduced a DHA-containing variant of its folic acid supplement FemiBion, which has allowed it to retain its lead on the German market for products targeting pregnant women, said Fusca.

The product also helped compensate for some of the damage from changes in OTC regulations, felt across the consumer healthcare industry.

"We have shown that even in established, mature markets like multivitamins, we can still provide for unmet needs. We think we will be able to create new ideas in the future,"​ he added.

Consumer health only accounts for 6 per cent of turnover at the German pharmaceuticals and chemicals group but recent acquisitions like the UK-based Lamberts Healthcare business in 2003 show that it is keen to drive growth at this unit.

"Our task is to grow in the near future both through regional expansion and other possibilities including acquisitions if they are appropriate,"​ explained Fusca.

The UK has become the group's largest market, with a dominant position in the joint care segment and the expanded business through the acquisition of Lamberts helping it lift sales over 2004 by 25 per cent to €85 million.

Higher marketing spend also helped drive sales growth last year.

"Firstly we increased our marketing and sales expenditure in our core markets and secondly we invested €9.9 million in researching and developing new formulations for our core products - 17 per cent more than in the previous year,"​ said the company in its results statement.

The market can expect further new multivitamin combinations and line extensions this year.

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