IAM SCRATCHING M Y HEAD OVER THIS ONE. In February, a St. Louis jury awarded the family of an Alabama woman who died from ovarian cancer $72 million in damages from Johnson & Johnson,
after her family claimed that her 2015 death
was caused by the long-term and consistent use of the company’s baby powder,
among other products that contain talc.
Her lawyers claimed that J&J officials
had long been aware of the possible risk of
using products that contain talc for feminine hygiene use. In court, the lawyers
introduced a 1997 internal memo from a consultant that seemed to
confirm the connection
between ovarian cancer and the use of talc.
It should be noted that
some health care experts
say that there is no proof
that talc causes ovarian
cancer, a stance also held
by J&J officials.
As of mid-March there
was no word if J&J would
appeal the case, though industry observers seem to think the New Brunswick, N.J.-based company would try to get the verdict overturned.
What has me confused by all of this is
how little publicity the verdict has seemed
to attract, especially since new reports,
including articles from the Associated
Press, say that perhaps hundreds of other
women are also suing J&J over its failure
to inform consumers about the risks of
talc. Besides reports announcing the ver-
dict and the damages little has been made
of this decision, which could have a dra-
conian impact on J&J and perhaps many
other manufacturers as well.
One would expect, given the popularity
of both baby powder and talc, that newspapers and TV news shows would follow
up with reports about the potential relationship between talc and cancer en mass.
The result, of course, would be rising consumer concerns about talc-based products,
followed by the normal reaction by retailers
to take said products off the shelves immediately then issue some sort of in-store
notice giving consumers other options.
However, as far as I can tell, it was almost
like nothing ever happened. I visited five
different supermarket chains and drugstores in my area and all continued to stock
talc-based products. I asked store managers if they had received any consumer
inquiries about talc and baby powder and
no one seemed to know what I was talking about. I also asked a bunch of young
moms if they continued to use the product
on their young children or for themselves
and most said yes. None had heard of the
So where does that leave retailers?
Some would say business as usual since
consumers—and the media—do not seem
to be making a big deal over the verdict.
Others warn retailers to be careful, stress-
ing the fact that at some point they may be
dragged into the legal fray by some adven-
turous attorney who sees merchants as a
party to the problem. At a minimum, retail-
ers need to offer consumers as many alter-
natives, such as corn starch-based pow-
ders, as possible. They also need to keep
up with future legal proceedings to ensure
that they are ahead of the curve in case this
starts to blow up.
THE SPOR TS AUTHORIT Y, ONE OF THE NATION’S
LARGEST SPORTING GOODS COMPANIES,
announced in late February that it was
filing for bankruptcy and closing nearly
150 stores nationwide. Immediately, many
retail pundits said it was more proof that
consumers were moving to online sites for
Perhaps not, or at least perhaps that
was not the major culprit. Instead, the
company may have fallen victim to poor
in-store merchandising and a desire to be
an all-in-one sporting goods retailer in a
time where most consumers simply want
the basics. Sports Authority carried too
many SKUS, making its stores hard to shop
and harder to earn a profit from.
As retailers from Best Buy to Kmart
and Walmart have learned, bigger is not
always better, especially when more and
more consumers are looking for convenience—first and foremost.
TAKING A POWDER
The safety of talc-based products has come into question, but appears to be falling on deaf ears.
By Seth Mendelson
Seth Mendelson is publisher
and editorial director of Grocery