J&J consumer health boosts results, even without a key plant

Johnson & Johnson ($JNJ) has been working for nearly four years to overcome manufacturing problems at its key over-the-counter products plant in the U.S. and get the facility reopened. In a new sign that it is getting those problems behind it, even before the plant reopens, the drugmaker says the OTC unit posted a nearly 20% jump in U.S. sales last year as it got products like Tylenol and Motrin back in the hands of consumers.

The New Brunswick, NJ-based pharma and consumer products company saw some big improvements in drug sales as well: a 10.9% jump for the full year to $28.1 billion. In reporting its fourth-quarter year-end results, the company said sales of Tylenol and Motrin, as well as upper respiratory over-the-counter (OTC) products, provided a key helping hand.

McNeil Consumer Healthcare in April 2010 closed its main OTC plant in Fort Washington, PA, and later signed a consent decree with the FDA for it and two other facilities after it had to recall millions of products, including Tylenol and Motrin. It has since spent more than $100 million to upgrade the Fort Washington facility, while boosting production at a couple of other facilities to do its best to keep popular consumer products available. The company had hoped to get the Fort Washington facility reopened last year.

Alex Gorsky

CEO Alex Gorsky told analysts in a call Tuesday that the company had strengthened and streamlined its supply chain to meet demand for OTC products and "as we work to bring our plants fully back online, we've executed all of the milestones to date in our FDA consent decree."

While progress may be visible in top line results, problems with manufacturing quality continue to plague J&J's consumer healthcare operations globally. As recently as September it recalled 200,000 bottles of its concentrated Motrin infants' drops after plastic particles were detected in the API. South Korea last year launched an investigation after J&J's Janssen unit there released some Children's Tylenol products that contained excessive levels of acetaminophen.

- here's the release
- read SeekingAlpha's transcript of the analyst call