Wisconsin Pharmacal stays on top of changing consumer spending habits

Made in Milwaukee

Wisconsin Pharmacal produces and packages a wide range of products at its Jackson facility.

Wisconsin Pharmacal Co. LLC
1 Pharmacal Way, Jackson
Industry: Consumer goods
Employees: 65

Jackson-based Wisconsin Pharmacal Co. LLC has been through a lot of changes over the years. The company traces its roots back to a pharmacy co-op started in Milwaukee in the late 1800s. The modern incarnation got its start when John Wundrock acquired it in 1970.

Over the years, Wisconsin Pharmacal transitioned to an outdoor health and wellness company. Today, following a number of divestitures and acquisitions, the company makes a wide range of products led by Coleman-brand insect repellents. It also manufactures water purification tablets, fish attractants and treatments for eczema and psoriasis, as well as feminine hygiene products under its Lake Consumer Products subsidiary.

Wisconsin Pharmacal produces and packages a wide range of products using both automation and manual labor.
Wisconsin Pharmacal produces and packages a wide range of products using both automation and manual labor.

The company counts Walmart, Bass Pro Shops, Cabela’s, Walgreens, CVS, Rite Aid and many other store brands among its customers. With so many retail and drug store customers, Wisconsin Pharmacal finds itself paying close attention to the demands of both its customers and their consumers.

“The consumer buying habits are strange, they’re finicky (and) you have to be on top of that,” said Andrew Wundrock, vice president of sales.

Wundrock said the landscape in both retail and drug stores has evolved over the past 10 to 15 years, but the shift has been particularly noticeable in the last five.

While the drug stores are increasingly focused on offering their own brands, other national retailers are leaning toward brands with proven track records.

Wisconsin Pharmacal is able to take advantage of both sides of that trend. The company licenses the Coleman brand for a number of categories, which gives it the credibility to get its other smaller brands into stores.

“We look for smaller segments that either don’t have a brand leader or have a brand leader that’s really taken their eyes off the business,” Wundrock said.

Water purification tablets are added to bottles at Wisconsin Pharmacal
Water purification tablets are added to bottles at Wisconsin Pharmacal

In segments where the company doesn’t have its own product, Wisconsin Pharmacal produces products for chains like CVS.

Expanding into businesses beyond insect repellant has taken some seasonality out of the business, but employment still fluctuates from a base of about 65 full-time employees to more than 100 early in the year to accommodate increased production of insect repellant.

With a broad range of products, the company’s manufacturing activities include liquid filling, tablet pressing and suppository production. Items are packaged in a wide variety of containers, including bottles, tubes and non-aerosol pumps.

Aerosol and citronella products are the only Wisconsin Pharmacal products not packaged in Jackson. Wundrock said those processes require specialized equipment, so the liquids are formulated in Jackson and sent to a firm in Middleton for packaging.

Production is completed through a mix of automation and manual labor. Wundrock said finding a workforce to fill those needs doesn’t present as much of a challenge as finding the sales staff to get it into stores.

“You have to be able to get these products placed at retail and then you have to be able to make sure that they perform,” he said.

With either the U.S. Food and Drug Administration or the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency regulating most products, every company Wisconsin Pharmacal competes with has great products, Wundrock said, adding that companies also have become skilled at obtaining and keeping placement in stores.

Those stores are increasingly less likely to take one product out to put something else in because of the amount of work involved.

“It’s one thing to be able to get a product into a chain; it’s an entire other thing to make it sell,” Wundrock said.

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Arthur covers banking and finance and the economy at BizTimes while also leading special projects as an associate editor. He also spent five years covering manufacturing at BizTimes. He previously was managing editor at The Waukesha Freeman. He is a graduate of Carroll University and did graduate coursework at Marquette. A native of southeastern Wisconsin, he is also a nationally certified gymnastics judge and enjoys golf on the weekends.

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