ARTHRITIS REMEDY TO HIT STORES IN MAY

BOCA RATON, FLA. -- A much-touted arthritis remedy will begin shipping to supermarket shelves in mid-May.The remedy, Sundown Glucosamine and Chondroitin, will be marketed over-the-counter by Sundown Vitamins, the largest division of Rexall Sundown, based here.The dietary supplement has been plugged on "CBS This Morning." It is already the subject of a best-selling book, "The Arthritis Cure," and its

BOCA RATON, FLA. -- A much-touted arthritis remedy will begin shipping to supermarket shelves in mid-May.

The remedy, Sundown Glucosamine and Chondroitin, will be marketed over-the-counter by Sundown Vitamins, the largest division of Rexall Sundown, based here.

The dietary supplement has been plugged on "CBS This Morning." It is already the subject of a best-selling book, "The Arthritis Cure," and its manufacturer predicts it will be the melatonin and DHEA of 1997.

"Every retailer we do business with is excited and has expressed interest in the product," said David Kronrad, vice president of national accounts for Sundown Vitamins. "We are going to be presenting it to the vitamin buyers for chains."

The combination of glucosamine and chondroitin is said to promote healthy, mobile joint function and connective tissue health, as well as aid cartilage growth.

Other manufacturers are also marketing the combination treatment, in violation of an exclusive license, according to Sundown. The company said it acquired the North American license March 26 to market the dietary supplement from the patent-holder, Nutramax Laboratories, based in Baltimore.

"We have the product from Nature's Bounty. We've had it for a couple of weeks," said David Spohr, category manager for Randalls Food Markets, Houston. "It'll be a slow grow as more people hear about it through word-of-mouth. They'll buy it if it has a positive effect on their condition."

"Our product does not infringe on Nutramax's patent. We feel their patent will eventually be found to be invalid after investigation," said Jim Flaherty, vice president of marketing and advertising for Nature's Bounty, Bohemia, N.Y.

Media reports about the treatment have prompted some shoppers at Dan's Foods, Salt Lake City to request the remedy, said Scott Buchanan, pharmacy supervisor/manager. "We don't have it."

Some health and beauty care buyers SN contacted were not yet aware of the treatment. "I have not heard of it yet," said an HBC director at a Midwestern chain who asked to remain unidentified. "There are so many nutritional supplements coming out now. All the manufacturers are trying to jump on the current craze."

About 16 million people suffer from some form of arthritis, according to a spokeswoman for the New York chapter of the Arthritis Foundation. Most arthritis is not curable, she said. "The Arthritis Foundation is not endorsing the product until it sees scientific proof," the spokeswoman added.

Under the licensing agreement, Nutramax Laboratories will continue to sell Cosamin DS, a higher-dosage product, through licensed health care professionals and from behind the counter at pharmacies.

"Nutramax was looking for a partner," Sundown's Kronrad said. "Nutramax does not have a large presence in food, drug and mass accounts, whereas we are a leader in distributing nutritional supplements, vitamins and minerals to food, drug and mass accounts.

"We have not established a suggested retail price yet, but more than likely retailers will sell it for under $20. We are at present looking at 40 capsules in a boxed package," Kronrad said.

The product will be sold in the vitamin category, but Sundown said more aggressive retailers will also position the supplement in the analgesics section. "We think the product will generate dual purchases."

Food stores that sell vitamins and analgesics will automatically have a home for this product, Kronrad said. "We will have several display vehicles available, all of which will have a lot of educational material on the header part. We will be offering prepacked endcap displays. We will have a 12-piece counter unit and a 24-piece side wing available.

"The product will be distributed directly through Sundown and through our wholesaler partners as well -- although we cannot say whether they will pick up the item. We will try to make it available any way we can," Kronrad said.

While the product ships in mid-May, Kronrad said it doesn't pay for Sundown to commence advertising until every retailer has distribution.

Sundown is planning a major media campaign to educate the public about the combination arthritis treatment, including a television campaign that Kronrad said will generate 2.7 billion impressions over a 30-week period beginning about Sept. 1.

"We will do two half-page freestanding inserts with a 30 million circulation reach in select markets throughout the country. We plan to blanket the majority of the United States with it. We are also planning a print campaign beginning in October, although we haven't selected magazines yet," Kronrad added.

Products like melatonin and DHEA sell well when they first come out, and then they tend to die, said the Midwestern HBC director. "Typically, it becomes hot, but when we supermarkets get into it, it's on the declining level."

The spokeswoman for the Arthritis Foundation pointed out that the Food and Drug Administration has not reviewed or refuted the claims made for the glucosamine and chondroitin dietary supplement. Substances promoted as dietary supplements do not require premarket review by the FDA. Manufacturers are required only to comply with FDA safety guidelines and to have "substantial evidence" supporting claims to a compound's benefit. There are no criteria defining "substantial evidence" and suppliers are not required to share this information with the FDA.

"While the studies conducted over the last 15 years show some promise, more long-term, rigorously controlled studies with a large number of patients are warranted to evaluate the efficacy of glucosamine and chondroitin as treatments for arthritis," the spokesperson concluded.