When Standard Homeopathic Co. recalled its Hyland's Baby Teething Tablets last October due to a Food and Drug Administration review of the manufacturing process, it marked the company's first voluntary product recall in more than 100 years of operation. Now, the reformulated Teething Tablets are shipping to stores, much to the relief of moms (and their babies) everywhere—and the product's popularity hasn't waned.
The Teething Tablets recall of 2010-2011 is officially over, and although it was a tough nine months, Standard Homeopathic Co. CEO John P. (Jay) Borneman, PhD, said that in its wake the company's relationship with its customers is more transparent than ever. The homeopathic, over-the-counter tablets are just one product in the company's diversified portfolio of 3,500 offerings, which helped carry the weight during the recall.
"If you want to have a great quarter, don't do a recall," Borneman joked. "But we ended our fiscal year in June not far off the business plan. Pretty astonishing." Sales of benzocaine-free Hyland's Teething Gel increased 150-fold, aided by an FDA consumer alert in April regarding the risks of benzocaine for children younger than 2.
Standard Homeopathic Co. treated the recall as an opportunity rather than a pitfall. "We added the child-resistant cap [to the product], which is something we had intended to do and the FDA wanted us to do," said Mary Borneman, director of communications and public affairs for the company. "We've done everything we could possibly do. Knowing that the product was already safe, we made it safer." The FDA issued a warning to the company last October citing inconsistent amounts of the herb belladonna, which can be toxic at high doses.
Social media success during a recall
Throughout the recall, the company also looked to social media to connect with customers. "Facebook and Twitter were very critical as we began to evaluate what was going on," Jay Borneman said. The company used social media first to understand the moms' reactions and then to communicate the development progress of the new teething tablets. Many moms were satisfied with this "coming soon" response, but one mom stood out to the CEO.
"I'll never forget, one mom posted something on Facebook saying she needed to talk to the CEO," Borneman said. "So I picked up the phone and I called her. She was a little stunned by that and said, 'Well, you're just holding this off the market to build anticipation.' [I said] 'That's a great perspective, but let me explain to you that I can't pay my mortgage by not selling you stuff.'"
The company's Facebook page is now abuzz with moms reporting where they bought the tablets. "Found them in Lake Wylie, SC at the Walgreens!! Thank God!!!" wrote one mom. Borneman said the tablets haven't been rolled out internationally, but Hyland's users have also written on Facebook about smuggling the product into foreign countries.
This loyal advocacy is paying off for moms. Standard Homeopathic Co. began the Hyland's Moms 1st Club as a way to give back to its consumers and thank them for their support. Moms who signed up for the club received the new teething tablets before the product hit stores recently.
Bouncing back from a recall
If one thing can be learned from the Hyland's Baby Teething Tablets recall it's that transparency and communication with customers across the supply chain is key. "Take the time to build capacity before you ever need to," Borneman said, referring to vendors, customers and the various consultants who can help during a recall. "Make sure that when you pick up the phone, somebody's going to pick up the other end and say, 'Yeah, I've got your back.'"
Everyday business strategies, whether following good manufacturing practices, taking FDA safety alerts seriously or even talking with customers on Facebook, can really pay off in a crisis. The second-most important thing, Borneman said, is to never underestimate how extraordinary the people who work for your company are. Admittedly, Standard Homeopathic Co. didn't immediately have a communications plan in place when the recall hit, but instead kept listening to its consumers and adjusting response along the way.
"This is the most tested baby homeopathic product of all time," Borneman said. "We think we've done a really good job with it, and it'll be up to a number of regulators, the FDA of not the least of which, to decide whether or not we're right." While the FDA does not ever officially provide an approval on homeopathic drugs, Mary Borneman said the company will continue to adhere to GMPs and maintain its safety profile.