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Monday, August 10, 2009

Hand Sanitizer War Ignites: Purell Fires Missives and Missles at Alcohol-Free Competitor

Well, it was merely a matter of time before the big gorilla within the hand sanitizer industry decided to employ unseemly (and potentially libelous) tactics in an effort to undermine a manufacturer of alcohol-free hand sanitizer products because they're becoming so popular with customers.

A little birdy raised her hand to share with us an email sent by GOJO Industries to its third-party distributors.

To provide background, both the company in question and a distributor of its products were recently informed by the FDA that the distributors website, as well as the company's website was in violation of FDA 'guidelines' because the site(s) were displaying the names of specific pathogens that the product has proven to be effective against in independent lab tests.

The distributor, as well as the manufacturer were apparently quite surprised by the FDA warning (and the fact the FDA posted the distributor company's name on a website as being 'in violation'), if only because virtually all other hand sanitizer marketers/distributors and manufacturers make reference to specific pathogens on their respective websites.

The fact that GOJO had visited the company's website on no less than three dozen occasions within the two weeks immediately preceding the FDA warning letter is perhaps coincidental. Or not.

We do know that GOJO visits this blog on a frequent basis, but we don't market products, and hopefully the FDA has a copy of the First Amendment (we know they've interrogated this blog too, along with people from the CDC).

Like Bill O'Reilly, or any other talking head, we're just an (opinionated) observer that happens to believe that by applying alcohol to the hands is perhaps the best way to destroy protective skin cells and otherwise increase the risk of being infected by any number of germs or viruses.

Alcohol hand sanitizers are also a great product that teens can use to spice up their morning or afternoon beverages. And if all else fails, those products are a great way to start a camp fire. Or any other type of fire.

Below is the email sent by one Klara Kozak, a "Commercial Sales Director" for GOJO Industries.

From: Kozak, Klara [mailto:KozakK@GOJO.COM]

Sent: Tuesday, August 04, 2009 10:20 AM



Subject: Fraudulent Claims - liability concerns

Good Morning Gentlemen;

I have attached some files that should prove helpful in answering your customers questions regarding approved products that can be used against H1N1. This of course applies to ALL markets. I understand that you have a few schools in your region that are currently using [non-alcohol hand sanitizer], they will likely be looking for products that are both recommended and not deemed harmful.

Given the recent warnings that have been issued to the manufacturer, your customers may be concerned with the products they may have purchased and are providing to their students, staff, residents, patrons etc.

The first 2 links here identify the manufacturer and their various claims as fraudulent.

[the blog author has determined to leave out the specific links in deference to the fact Ms. Kozak, with or without the authorization of her employer, has otherwise made statements which are out of context with the actual FDA letter, and perhaps completely false, intentionally or not.]

The files attached are from Health Canada which identify the active ingredient on the chemical hot-list of products to be concerned with and the updated guidelines issued by Health Canada that identify alcohol based hand sanitizer as part of their hand washing guidelines. ( I believe that I have sent these to you in the past)

As always, feel free to contact me or our GOJO customer service line for technical information on the efficacy of Purell and other GOJO products.

Stay Well, Be Happy!
Klara Kozak
Commercial Sales Director
416-418-3616 OFFICE
Fax 330-255-6070 GOJO Industries

The above letter apparently sparked at least one recipient, a distributor of Purell products, to reply with the following:

Dear Klara-

After being on holiday last week, I returned to my office to find the e-letter from you. Contrary to what you suggested, we have had no inquiries or expressions of concern from any customers, including schools, with regard to the manufacturer you referenced.

Given that we sell a variety of products, and that we have received considerable [unsolicited] demand for non-alcohol hand sanitizer products, including that manufactured by the company you reference in your email with subject "fraudulent claims/liability concerns", I can only say that our entire division is appalled that GOJO would allow you to distribute a message that smears, if not libels a competing manufacturer.

1. Yes, we have many schools in our particular region that currently procures products from the manufacturer that you reference in your letter. As you may be aware, three different parts of the country have school systems (encompassing more than 700 facilities) that have banned alcohol hand sanitizers. Based on what our own customers have told us, the reasoning behind banning alcohol based products is 3-fold

i. Flammable.

ii. Toxic

iii. Alcohol destroys protective skin cells, which necessarily leaves the body that much more prone to exposure to a transmittable virus.

Schools are particularly sensitive to the fact that their students are found to be abusing alcohol-based hand sanitizers, and using it for unintended purposes, such as mixing it with soda pop and other beverages. Regardless of their reasoning, the fact is what it is. They will not purchase alcohol-based hand sanitizers.

That said, your email message indicated that your products are "recommended" for students and "not deemed harmful", and that the competing, alcohol-free product has been deemed harmful and has not been recommended.

We consulted local counsel, who actually communicated with the US FDA to determine exactly why that competing manufacturer's name appears on the FDA site, and in what context.

Based on an email correspondence from a member of the FDA staff, it was made clear that no hand sanitizer manufacturer is permitted to reference any pathogen on their website, or to include any mention of any type of pathogen within the meta tags of their website.

Apparently, the website that the FDA referenced in your link had, like virtually all other hand sanitizer marketers, incorporated terms/phrases that the FDA has determined as of June of this year, to be not permissable.

According to our own sources at FDA, the website in question has since removed all references to specific pathogens, and according to what we've been told, the FDA is in the process of making an update to their website to reflect the fact the site in question is now in full compliance. There was never any indication the product itself or even that the advertising was "fraudulent", it was merely in violation of an advertising rule that few had ever been aware of or abided by, but that the FDA has, since June of this year, decided to enforce. Much in part to prevent irresponsible people from exploiting the demand for hand hygiene products in the midst of a global health crisis.

No doubt that your sending a message suggesting that the company has made fraudulent claims has offended the manufacturer, but I'm writing to tell you this letter insults the intelligence of those that distribute your product.

Contrary to your letter to myself and co-workers, we have determined that the FDA makes absolutely no suggestion that the product is harmful, or that the company has made any type of fraudulent claim. Further, we were told that the "harmful product list" does not suggest the product is "harmful"; the title of the list you reference is, according to sources at FDA, a misnomer. Your corporate attorney is no doubt aware of this, and if not, we would like to think that you and he will be getting quite an education in the weeks ahead.

Because your sales team has instructed third party sales companies such as ours that hands should be rinsed clean of dirt (using soap and water) prior to applying Purell-- it causes many customers to ask why they would then apply a formula that destroys the skin cells and increases risk of exposure to germs and bacteria.

We can only surmise that you found it necessary to resort to unseemly tactics as a means to undermine a competitor. This is inexcusable and has necessarily caused us to completely re-evaluate our interest in promoting your company's products.

If the FDA purportedly states that no maker of hand sanitizer is allowed to incorporate the names of any specific pathogens within the content of its website, or within the meta tag fields, your company would therefore be in similar violation to the manufacturer that you referenced. However impressed we might be with the power of your lobbyists in Canada or in the US, we're unimpressed with your business conduct.

I've refrained from including my personal signature on this note, as it appears that you and your company know of no boundaries with respect to unprofessional behavior, and I'd hasten to wonder what lengths you would go to with regard to smearing other people's good and hard-earned reputations.

But be assured, your tactics will not go unnoticed within the industry.

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