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Johnson & Johnson to end talc-based baby powder sales in North America

In May 2020, in response to declining demand, Johnson & Johnson (J&J) announced it would discontinue the sale of talc-based baby powder in the United States and Canada, but will continue to sell it in other markets. In a statement, the company said existing retail inventory of the talc-based powder will sell until it runs out, while the company’s cornstarch-based baby powder will continue to trade in the United States and Canada.

This slump has been compounded by the fact the company faces thousands of lawsuits claiming that its talcum powder product caused cancer. In fact in July 2018, 22 women in the US state of Missouri were awarded a record $4.7bn payout from J&J after they claimed the brand’s talcum powder led them to develop ovarian cancer.

In March this year, the company faced almost 20,000 lawsuits related to talc body powders, this raises questions about why the company has decided to continue selling its products in other international markets.

A report by the New York Times highlighted that J&J executives were aware of asbestos (a known carcinogen) at the company’s underground talc mines. These findings have adversely affected the company’s brand name and reputation.

In addition to this, in recent years the company has suffered a significant decline in sales as millennial mothers switch to boutique brands that prioritize natural and organic ingredients.

In 2019, J&J announced it had cut the number of ingredients in its new Johnson’s Baby line by half, eliminating dyes and sulfates and replacing ingredients like mineral oil with naturally derived oils such as coconut oil. Its new Cottontouch range is made with real cotton fibers and cottonseed oil which will appeal to a mass market looking for natural ingredients.

However, it is questionable whether growth in this segment will be dampened by concerns that the company’s products have been associated with cancer causing chemicals. Although J&J have refuted these claims, it will be hard for the company to regain its lost consumer base and it is unlikely that its baby care products will be a ‘go-to brand’ due to raising concerns about the ingredients used.