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P&G Moves Dietary Supplement from Web to Stores

Cincinnati is one of three markets where the Procter & Gamble Co. is launching a new pill filled with "helpful bacteria" to aid the digestive system.

The dietary supplement, called Align®, will be marketed as a treatment for ailments such as diarrhea, constipation and other abdominal maladies. It will be available over-the-counter at Walmart®, Walgreens, CVS® and Meijer® stores here and in Dallas and St. Louis.

Align was introduced two years ago but until now has been sold only via a Web site and a toll-free number. It also was marketed through doctors who specialized in stomach ailments. Its move to store shelves is part of an experiment that taught Procter & Gamble a lesson in how to launch new products by going directly to the consumer rather than starting at retail.

"This is a different way than P&G is used to launching" a product, said Kristin Harper, Align's brand manager.

Most of P&G's new products go straight to store shelves. For example, Berry Burst! Metamucil®, also a product of the company's personal health care unit, first appeared in April in grocery and drug stores.

But the company inaugurated sales of Align via the 800 number and the Internet because of the perishable nature of the product, whose key ingredient is live bacteria.

The pill is supposed to alleviate stomach ailments by introducing the bacteria, trademarked under the name Bifantis®, into the digestive system. The microscopic organisms join others that occur naturally in the digestive system, helping to create a balance between good and harmful bacteria.

In developing the pill, Procter & Gamble scientists encountered a key challenge that forced it to alter its marketing: keeping the bacteria alive so they will be effective. But there was no telling how long the bacteria could survive in the warehouses, trucks and store shelves.

"By offering it online, (Align) didn't need to have it go to a warehouse and sit for a while," said Susan Abeln, a P&G principal scientist. "They could just send it directly to the consumer. That gave them the time to get data on how long they could keep it on the shelf."

In the meantime, a marketing plan was put in place. Procter & Gamble contacted more than 1,100 gastroenterologists, or digestive system specialists, in Boston, St. Louis and Chicago, asking them to use the product, which doesn't require a prescription, with their patients.

In addition, a Web site was set up through which people who liked Align could sign up for eight weeks of e-mails about the product, as well as digestion-friendly recipes and other tips. Users could also recommend it to others via e-mail.

A 28-day supply of the pills will retail for about $29.99. The fact that the company is moving forward with over-the-counter sales shows that the two-year test period was successful, a P&G spokeswoman said, though she would not comment on sales numbers.

Meanwhile, the Align test taught the company new lessons that might prove useful with future product launches. Selling Align over the Web for two years gave Procter & Gamble control over its pricing, for example, Harper said. Normally, retailers would set the price for a new product.

It's also been a lesson in developing a product for a niche market—people with digestive problems—and shifting it to the general market. P&G hopes to market Align as a daily dietary supplement that anyone can use and to ultimately make it available nationally.

"People take vitamins on a regular basis to help keep their bodies in shape. This dietary supplement can help your body, just like a vitamin," Harper said.
*These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.