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Gerber, Bristol-Myers Plan To Market Infant Formula to Moms

June 16, 1989

NEW YORK (AP) _ Gerber Products Co., the huge baby food maker, said Thursday it is getting back into the $1.65 billion market for infant formula by marketing directly to parents a new formula made by Bristol-Myers Co.

The proposed marketing approach immediately drew fire from the American Association of Pediatrics, which opposes advertising infant formula to consumers for fear that it would discourage breast feeding.

Gerber officials said their ads would emphasize that breast feeding is the preferred method for feeding infants. They said it would also encourage mothers to talk with their physicians before deciding on a formula.

The announcement was unusual in another sense because it matched Gerber, which has twice discontinued infant formula products, with a company that is already a major factor in that business.

Bristol-Myers, based in New York, claims a 37 percent share of the market with products including Enfamil and ProSobee.

Abbott Laboratories Inc. has about 52.3 percent of the market, while Amrican Home Products Corp. is third at 9.7 percent, according to Gerber’s figures.

Under the agreement, Bristol-Myers will manufacture the new formula and be responsible for assuring the quality of the product. The product will be called Gerber Baby Formula and Gerber will be responsible for marketing it.

″Infant formula is a logical extension to our 61-year dedication to helping parents feed babies,″ said Robert L. Johnston, head of the Gerber Products division at the Fremont, Mich.-based company.

Gerber makes about 180 baby food products. The formula will be available in powdered, concentrated liquid and ready-to-use liquid forms.

Gerber plans to launch a multimillion-dollar marketing campaign that will include television and direct-mail advertising in August and said the product should be available on store shelves in September.

Gerber spokesman Steven Poole his company sold an infant formula called Modilac for about 10 years ending in the mid-1960s. It was discontinued because it was too costly to make and sell at a competitive price.

He said Gerber had also made a special formula for infants who could not tolerate milk but discontinued it about three years ago.

Bristol-Myers spokesman Dave Dubber said his company approached Gerber about marketing a new line of formula.

″Gerber has a food reputation in this market. We feel they have a chance to strengthen our position in the market,″ he said.

He said the Gerber formula also will give Bristol-Myers access to another outlet for the formula it makes. Bristol-Myers sells its infant formula through pediatricians while Gerber Baby Formula will be sold in stores.

Infant formula makers have generally avoided marketing directly to parents. But last year, Carnation Co. came out with two formula products, Good Start and Good Nature, that were initially promoted directly to parents.

The company has reportedly quit marketing Good Start to parents under pressure from pediatricians and the Food and Drug Administration, but still markets Good Nature formula for older babies to the public.

Dr. Joe Sanders, associate executive director of the American Academy of Pediatrics in Elk Grove Village, Ill., said he was disappointed that Gerber was going to market its formula directly to parents.

″I cannot help but wonder if there is a subliminal message here that says if you choose not to breast feed, here is an alternative just as good,″ he said.

Tim Atwater, a spokesman for the Minneapolis-based advocacy group Action for Corporate Accountability, said Gerber has a built-in conflict by advocating breast feeding while selling a substitute.

″They will only make money when moms choose not to breast feed,″ he said.

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