Friday, April 22, 2011

PWD's Not Crazy About Can-Am’s New Dex4 Packaging; Changes Being Tested Now

With it being the midst of spring holidays, notably being the Lent/Easter Holy Week and Passover, I figured this might be an opportunity for me to do a little bit of looking back at some blog posts of the past, such as one I called "Easter Basket Case: Equal Sues Splenda" from April 2007. By itself, there's nothing remarkable about that post, so you may be asking what it has to do with my post du jour?

Well, I'll tell you.

Early in my old post, I referenced an even older post from the preceding Halloween [2006] (see HERE) where I revealed a then still-new competitor to the giant in that space (Can-Am Care) that continues to operate in the market for what we refer to as "glucose tablets" (elsewhere, including the UK, people call them "dextrose" tablets, which is basically the same thing). Which leads me into today's topic.

The difficult-to-open packaging changes on Can-Am Care's 50-count bottles of Dex4 glucose tablets (as well as many retailers who happen sell Can-Am's glucose tablets under their own brand names) plus the tubes of 10 tablets. The perfs on those plastic seals are tough to find and don't always work properly. Personally, I struggle to open those darn packages when I'm NOT hypoglycemic, and when I am already low, I really have to rely on an already opened bottle, or something from my stash of Smarties.

I take small comfort in knowing that many people across the Diabetes Online Community seem to hate the new packaging as much as I do. But like any good investigative reporter, I wanted to see what was really behind the new packaging from hell, who or what was behind the change, and whether we might find any relief from it.

Read on for more!

Can-Am's New Dex4 Packaging Leaves PWD's Unhappy; Changes Being Tested Now

Rocker and reality TV star Brett Michaels generously calls it a "pet peeve".

D-Blogger Bernard Farrell thinks the new packaging represents an area where design can be improved.

I'm talking about the nearly impossible-to-remove, heat-shrunk outer-plastic seals that now surround new bottles of 50-count glucose tablets, as well as the perhaps equally impenetrable inner-seal on these products. Sure, the packages are bright and colorful, and protect the contents, but they also make it damn tough to access the contents, too. That might be tolerable if a person was not in such a fragile state of condition as hypoglycemia, but too frequently, patients struggle to open the packages when they most need to access the contents with ease.

During the past year, Can-Am Care, which sells the Dex4 brand of glucose tablets, as well as private-label brands for such retailers as Walgreens, CVS, Rite Aid, The Medicine Shoppe, Good Neighbor Pharmacy, Walmart Stores, K-Mart, Target, Costco, Acme supermarkets, Jewel-Osco, Shaws/Star Markets, Lucky Supermarkets, Safeway Stores, Publix, Albertsons, Meijer and many others has revamped it's packaging, and more than a few people with diabetes are not happy with the changes.

Quite frankly, this is one package design modification that stinks, and rocker Brett Michaels admits that he struggles with it even when he isn't hypoglycemic, claiming that only "through sheer power, I tear the container apart to get to them" so you can just imagine what a person whose hands are literally shaking from low blood glucose levels thinks of the new packaging.

Supposedly, these changes are to ensure that the products haven't been tampered with. But was that really a widespread problem prior to the new packaging? I never read any incidents of tampering from the FDA or in the news, including the local press near Can-Am's U.S. headquarters in Alpharetta, Georgia (such as the Atlanta Journal-Constitution).

I was more than a bit curious whether the company had modified its packaging because a powerful, influential retailer like Walmart had pushed for it, or whether perhaps there was evidence of tampering that prompted the new packaging?! I wanted to find out, so I did what any investigative reporter would do: I made some phone calls, knowing that I had a high-level contact at the company if my own research was less-than-productive.

Reaching Out to Can-Am Care

I called Can-Am Care, LLC, the manufacturer of the most-widely sold brands of glucose tablets (as well as their awesome but expensive liquid blast products) in the U.S. and Canada and spoke with Cliff Durham who is the product manager for the Dex4 brand of glucose tablets, gels and liquid blast drinks. I told him frankly that I found the plastic seals to be a bit like breaking into Fort Knox. I also explained the challenge this can present when a person is actually dealing with hypoglycemia.

FYI: Can-Am Doesn't Actually MAKE Dex4 Products

Incidentally, you may not be aware of it, but Can-Am's tablets are actually manufactured by a contract manufacturer at a factory owned by P.J. Noyes Company, Inc. located in in Lancaster, New Hampshire, which is located in the northern part of the state near the Vermont border. (Robert Oringer, the President of AMG Medical, Inc., the Canadian investment company that actually owns Can-Am Care, shared the tidbit that their tablets are actually manufactured in New Hampshire with me when I met him in New York a few years ago, and I was able to uncover the specific details about exactly which contract manufacturer the company uses on my own; as there aren't all that many companies that do this sort of thing in New Hampshire, so it was actually pretty easy to find! See HERE for some additional detail).

Since this post isn't very long, I am going to include a short video from P.J. Noyes Company that talks a bit how they have evolved, thanks in large part, to their contract-manufacturing relationship for Can-Am Care including some scenes from the manufacturing assembly line; see HERE to watch it.

The Dex4 Product Manager Speaks!

I half expected that Can-Am Care would take my comment, but share little (or nothing) else. After all, I was the individual in the Diabetes Online Community that disclosed that a little-known New Jersey-based start-up known as Raritan Pharmaceuticals had started to chip away at Can-Am Care's dominant position in the glucose tablet market with their extremely popular "Tropical Fruit" multiple-flavored glucose tablets and has not only landed part of the enormous Walmart business, New York's Duane Reade drugstores (which was recently acquired by Walgreens) and more recently has landed deals with Royal Ahold's Stop & Shop unit just to name one (those retailers also continue to use Can-Am Care's products too, as these are not exclusive supplier arrangements). This is a very competitive business and companies from Smarties (see HERE and HERE for more background) candies, to SweetTarts, to Coca Cola and Pepsi, juice boxes and countless other sugar-laden food products that are so ubiquitous in U.S. society today are all viable competitors.

Retailers are most concerned about what sells, at what price, and whether their suppliers can meet the demand. Can-Am Care came back with it's own mixed flavor varieties, but their flavor selections in these mixed flavor containers (which contain cherry which I'm not a big fan of, as well as sour apple which is just gross -- why not just drink regular apple juice?), quite frankly, leave something to be desired.

Can-Am's website indicates "We have devoted countless hours and resources to support our customers, suppliers and partners in their efforts to improve quality and safety. FDA-registered manufacturers, who meet or exceed the Quality System Regulations, supply all of our products." I wanted to see if that was just words, or if the company actually stood behind those words.

Ultimately, I was connected with Mr. Cliff Durham, who said he was the Dex4 product manager. He was very candid in telling me that I was not the first person with diabetes to contact the company and express these concerns about the less-than-friendly-to-PWDs packaging. But he also admitted that the retailers were at least partially behind the change, demanding brighter, more colorful packaging to stand out on their shelves, and to help reduce shrinkage. On the latter point, retailers don't want packaging that can open easily on the shelves, or is messy, and suppliers usually do what it takes to keep their retailers happy. After all, a company that relies upon third-parties to distribute it's products needs to keep those relationships going! Mr. Durham shared with me that the company has indeed heard from plenty of people with diabetes and their comments have NOT been been ignored.

Changes to Dex4 50-Count Containers Now Being Tested

While we should not look for new packaging in the next few months, he did indicate that they have been testing a number of changes to the packages.

What kind of changes?

He did not give all of the specifics, and they are still testing them now, but I am told that we could see the plastic outer seal around the TOP part of the containers disappear altogether. Another alternative packaging change now being tested is some changes to the perforations on the containers. If that's the design change that is ultimately selected, he hinted that the inner seal might disappear altogether since it is indeed redundant.

So when can we expect to see one of these changes?

Well, it may take a few months for the existing inventory to be used up. But Mr. Durham hinted that sometime in the next 4 to 6 months, consumers may begin noticing some changes to the packages of glucose tablets. Higher-volume retailers like Walmart may see the changes sooner than lower-volume retailers, as their inventory turns over more quickly.

For some PWDs, including Brett Michaels, these changes won't be implemented a moment too soon!!


Bennet said...

Thanks Scott for being the voice of all of us.

Now can you get the sour apple in 50 count bottles? lol

k2 said...

Thanks for all the hard work and kicking some major ass on the suject!
And to the Can-Am Care, it's about bloody time!