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Pepto’s in the Pink for a Reason

The Burning Question: Why is Pepto-Bismol pink?

The Answer:

“Somebody who helped develop it suggested the color because he thought kids would like it,” says Procter & Gamble spokesman Jim Schwartz after conferring with P&G;'s historian. “Its bright cheery color was meant to reduce fear.”

What makes Pepto pink?

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Artificial colors: Red 22 and Red 28.

Has it always been pink?

For all its 88 years.

Obviously, Procter & Gamble, which bought Pepto’s original manufacturer (Norwich Eaton Pharmaceuticals) in 1982, could have switched from hot pink to mint green, pure white or any of the other popular hues on pharmacy shelves.

Where does the name come from?

Pepto was a marketeer’s version of pepsin, a natural substance that aids digestion. Bismol is named for bismuth, the active ingredient that works, Schwartz says, by “coating the stomach.” Even though Pepto is now pepsin-less, no one could bear to change the name.

Is there a patent on the pink?

No. Pepto is “off patent"--a patent is good for 17 years unless you change the formula. And if you change the formula, you risk “consumer acceptability,” says P&G;'s Schwartz.

So it’s fair game, right on down to its bubble-gum hue.

“If a medicine is off patent, anybody can use the same ingredients in whatever combination the FDA approves,” says Jack Walden, a spokesman for the Nonprescription Drug Manufacturers Assn., a Washington trade group.

Who else is in the pink?

Competitors like Osco’s Pink Bismuth and Thrifty Stomach Relief understand the power of pink. It’s no accident that they are also made with artificial colors.

“Generally speaking, private-label products look similar to national brands because that is what the customer is looking for: a lower-priced alternative,” says a spokeswoman for Osco’s Pink Bismuth. (An 8-ounce bottle of Pepto is $3.39; Osco’s Pink is $2.49.)

Do people really prefer pink?

Yes, according to Robert Collins, a pharmacist at Horton & Converse Pharmacy in Van Nuys. “The pink color is the attraction. People seem to go for anything over the counter that’s red or pink.”

The Pharm Report appears Tuesdays. Doheny cannot answer mail personally but will attempt to respond to questions of general interest. Do not telephone. If you have a Pharm Report question, write to Pharm Report, View Section, Times Mirror Square, Los Angeles, Calif. 90053.


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