Monday, February 1, 2010

Should You Buy Generic Formula?

If you've been reading this blog for any amount of time, you know that I and other lactivists have a huge problem with the aggressive marketing employed by the formula companies. The three biggest brand names, Enfamil, Similac and Nestle, spend big bucks every year to get moms to choose and stick with their particular brand of formula. This includes, but is not limited to, advertising in parenting magazines as well as mainstream magazines like People, giving out freebies to pediatrician's offices and hospitals, sending samples to the homes of moms-to-be, sponsoring studies to tout the benefits of formula, and making shady if not outright outrageously false claims about how closely they approximate breast milk.

A few months ago, Enfamil lost a court case brought by PBM, the makers of the store-brand or "generic" formulas you'll find at drug stores and warehouse stores like Target and Sam's Club. A district court in Virginia ruled that Mead Johnson, makers of Enfamil, had mislead the public in its advertising that suggested that store brand formula was not as nutritious as their own. The text of one of their ads read, "It may be tempting to try a less expensive store brand, but only Enfamil LIPIL is clinically proven to improve brain and eye development," and "there are plenty of other ways to save on baby expenses without cutting back on nutrition" (like say, breastfeeding....heh). Anyway, Enfamil was ordered to pay PBN $13 million and is barred from making these types of claims again.

Of course there is not really any difference nutritionally between the expensive name-brand formulas and their store-brand counterparts. All of this is regulated by the FDA and all infant formula has to meet the same standards. You may find some variation in things like color or consistency, but nutritionally, it's the same.  In the past when I had friends who were weaning or needed to supplement with formula, I'd tell them to just buy the store brand. After all, it is the exact same ingredients and you'll save yourself a ton of money that could be better spent elsewhere. But I've begun to notice that PBM is working on several social media campaigns using mom bloggers to advertise its products and the fact that they will save you money over the name brands, and their marketing is beginning to make me uncomfortable.

I first noticed sponsored tweets that were linking to this YouTube video, where moms and dads on the street are asked to compare the ingredients on a can of Enfamil to those in PBM's formula. The tweets from people read "Save money, buy store brand formula." Then I noticed bloggers being paid or otherwise compensated to blog about how much money using store-brand formula saved them. Even breastfeeding moms have gotten in on the act, tweeting and blogging PMBs press releases for pay.  It has gotten so insidious that I see one of these tweets almost every single day in my Twitter stream and a simple Google search will lead you to a ton of blog posts sponsored by PBM.

Of course this is a WHO Code violation, and although PBM would like you to think they are more ethical than the brand name formula companies, they're not (in fact, PBM has paid for celebrity endorsements from Brooke Shields and Tori Spelling for their Bright Beginnings formula). They also recently announced they've hired a new Executive VP of Marketing to help them increase their sales and market share.

So what is next for PBM? Will they, too, begin mailing out freebies to new moms and creating "breastfeeding support bags" for moms to take home with them from the hospital? Will they expand their social media campaign?

What do you all think of these marketing tactics? Is PBM going too far or is this just a smart business move in this economy? And what of the bloggers being paid to advertise store brand formula? Do they need an education on all of the problems aggressive formula marketing can cause?

What do you think? Has PBM gone too far?

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