Bayer selling flea and tick products directly to retailers

Company cites market forces, diversion problem as reasons for the decision
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Bayer Animal Health is starting to sell Advantage and K9 Advantix directly through pet specialty retailers and Web sites, while continuing to sell both products through veterinarians.

In a Feb. 9 news release, Bayer stated one reason for the move is "to remain competitive in a rapidly changing business environment." Another reason is the ongoing diversion of flea and tick products from the veterinary channel to retail sales channels.

Veterinarians reacted with a mixture of emotions, and Bayer's move was a hot topic for online discussion boards. Dr. Douglas G. Aspros, vice chair of the AVMA Executive Board, said he was hearing from AVMA members who were not happy with Bayer or Bayer's decision.

Bayer's decision

Bob Walker, Bayer Animal Health director of communications and public policy, said his company knows a number of veterinarians are feeling a sense of disappointment.

Nevertheless, he said, some veterinarians appreciate Bayer being forthright about the move and the company's awareness that flea and tick products have been available through retail sales channels for some time.

Walker said selling Advantage and K9 Advantix to retailers will help Bayer direct the products to pet specialty stores and Web sites that share an interest in animal health. Bayer is working with retailers to provide more information to consumers about application of the products and the importance of veterinary visits.

Bayer also is promoting veterinary visits with a multimillion-dollar print advertising campaign in magazines that target pet owners.

"It's extremely important for pet owners to have that routine dialogue with their veterinarian to understand how to use these products," Walker said. "We'll be very explicit on the usage and application from the retail side, but it doesn't take the place of the importance of the pet owners' and the pets' relationship with the veterinarian."

Veterinarians' reactions

Other major flea and tick products remain available only through veterinarians, except in cases of diversion.

Bayer product Advantage K9 Advantix
Species Dogs and cats Dogs only
For control of Fleas Fleas, ticks, mosquitoes
Active ingredient(s) Imidacloprid Imidacloprid, permethrin
Year of introduction 1996 2002

The AVMA Principles of Veterinary Medical Ethics refer to products "for which the manufacturer has voluntarily limited the sale to veterinarians as a marketing decision." According to the principles, it is unethical for veterinarians to participate in the resale of this type of product "in a manner which violates those directions or conditions specified by the manufacturer to ensure the safe and efficacious use of the product."

Dr. Aspros believes veterinarians are responsible for some diversion of flea and tick products to retailers, but he also believes few companies have tried hard to stop the overall diversion problem. The small animal practitioner said many colleagues who lent their authority and expertise to promoting Advantage and K9 Advantix through their clinics feel misused now that Bayer has decided to sell the products directly to retailers.

Dr. Karen E. Felsted, chief executive officer of the National Commission on Veterinary Economic Issues, noted that with the advent of the Internet pharmacies, veterinary prescription drugs and other veterinary products have been readily available outside clinics for some years now—and many veterinarians already have adapted to these changing business models.

Some veterinarians have shifted their profit models to place less emphasis on deriving revenue from product sales, Dr. Felsted said, and more emphasis on charging sufficiently for services and running their businesses more productively and efficiently.

"I think practices will continue to dispense drugs in the foreseeable future," she said. "But what drugs they dispense, how they do it, that's been changing for years now."

Future relationship

For Bayer's part, the company stated that it continues to view veterinarians as its most important partner in animal health.

"We cannot stress enough how committed we remain to veterinarians," stated Joerg Ohle, president of Bayer Animal Health, in the Feb. 9 news release. "And we intend to build on our long-standing partnerships with new investments in programs and promotions to support their practices, the profession, and the industry."

According to the news release, Bayer Animal Health is increasing its financial support of veterinary associations, including the AVMA and the Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges.

At the same time as its retail rollout of Advantage and K9 Advantix in March, Bayer is offering a "March Back In" program to provide $20 rebates to pet owners who purchase either product from a veterinarian in March and visit the veterinarian again by year's end. Additional information is available by calling Bayer Animal Health customer service at (800) 633-3796.

The company offered a similar program in February of last year, "Help Your Pet Get to the Vet," providing $20 vouchers for preventive care to promote veterinary visits during the economic downturn.

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