Omega Pharma is a pharmacist champion and one of the fastest growing OTC companies in Poland. Its General Manager in Poland discusses the shift taking place with Pharmacies now becoming more sales and patient oriented and how the company can help them in this transition.
Omega Pharma has been present in Poland for the last seven years. Could you share with us a brief historical overview?
In 2007, Omega Pharma acquired Richard Bittner which was operating in Eastern Europe and had an affiliate in Warsaw. It seems such a long time ago and yet Omega Pharma has had quite interesting developments during this time.
The first two years after I joined the company in 2010 were challenging as the company was starting from scratch and Poland has a market where you need to attain a certain critical mass to be able to show your strengths to your consumers and clients. The most emblematic and revolutionizing event for our business took place in May 2012, when Omega Pharma acquired GSK’s OTC business. With this event, our turnover in Poland after one year was multiplied by five and we also entered a new distribution channel besides our pharmacy segment which is the mass market.
Omega is defined as a pharmacist champion. Could you guide us through the company’s approach with Polish pharmacies?
Marc Coucke’s philosopy, CEO and cofounder of Omega Pharma in 1987, was to a build a company with a simple idea: “a company by pharmacists and for pharmacists.” The main objective of any pharmacy is to bring health to patients by offering them the most appropriate products for their needs. In Poland, pharmacies have been experiencing a clear transition from a simple pharmacy business where simple products are offered to the community to a very sophisticated marketing and retail oriented business where products directly target customers to maximize their profits. At Omega Pharma we are doing are best to support pharmacies and help them reach out to their customers with the best product quality and offering. We do not only want pharmacies to sell our products, we want to help them make their business more profitable and dynamic.
Omega Pharma Poland is a typical sales organization with two thirds of our staff represented by sales rep. The pharmacy is still by far our most important segment as it represents three fourth of our entire business and the rest is mass market.
Poland is part of the group’s emerging markets. How important is this affiliate as an emerging market for the group?
We are the 10th largest affiliate for the group and we are proud to be in this top 10 ranking at Omega Pharma. In terms of size our business compares to the ones in Russia and Ukraine. Given that Poland is part of the EU, has a strong economic performance, a stable political system and great potential to develop in the OTC business, we are certainly in the right country to develop our business.
On what grounds can Omega Pharma compete with very fast growing and ambitious players?
Of course there are well established international and local players in Poland. With players like Polpharma or Aflofarm which have such huge resources and broad portfolio, creating an edge in this industry is not an easy task.
Omega Pharma Poland is currently ranked 17th in the Polish OTC ranking. For the moment our strategy is to be present in the biggest categories like cough and cold or Vitamins, minerals, supplements and natural remedies. We acquired through GSK an important brand in the pain killer category (Solpadeine). Among our top 20 group brands, 10 of them are present in Poland and this means with GSK brands (local brands we acquired) we also gained a strong positioning in the Polish market. We of course want to develop these local brands and it is our job as an affiliate to do our best.
We specialize in quality OTC products but Poland is one of the lowest level priced pharma markets in Europe, so we always need to make adjustments. This means that we are always discussing price issues and how to position our products in Poland with our headquarters to find the best price strategy. It is important to be price competitive here and this means that many times we cannot offer the same prices offered by our colleagues in Germany, Benelux or the UK. Therefore in almost all of our categories we are positioned with a medium to premium price.
How does Omega Pharma bring added value to its customers?
Because of our long heritage and philosophy to reach out to pharmacies, Omega Pharma sets the highest quality standards and assures of always providing customers with the best quality available in the market. Our second factor which is key to our success is to always focus on establishing the best relationship with our pharmacists. With hard work and dedication it is possible to show the added value of our products to our clients and this is always our aim.
Innovation is the key driving force for future growth. What is the company’s approach towards innovation?
In principle we can say that OTC medicinal products are generics, because generic products are the after patent expiry version of Rx products. Innovation at Omega Pharma is best represented through our marketing approach. We want to find the most innovative ways to reach out to our pharmacies and customers. In addition, some of our products also have a great deal of innovation imbedded. Our objective is to offer the best in class offer and whether this comes in-house or through products we acquired from another company what matters is that the products profit from the most advanced active ingredients and really improve patients’ lives.
With the aim of becoming a top 10 player in the global OTC market, how important will Poland become in the near future? Will Omega Pharma become the number one OTC player in Poland?
We already have at hand a quite sizeable product portfolio and given that in Poland we only have a small portion of the group’s available portfolio, this leaves us plenty of room to grow with a great pipeline. With only GSK’s acquisition we have 54 brands and over 400 products. With still only 10 percent of GSK’s portfolio in Poland, imagine what we can accomplish with the rest of these brands!
Therefore in the coming years, Omega Pharma in Poland will grow organically focusing on our portfolio development and bringing new brands to the market. Our challenge in the coming years in to reach the top 10 OTC ranking in Poland, and we clearly believe this is achievable. This also means that we predict that in the near future our turnover will once again be multiplied at least by three and allow us to reach the critical mass and resources we need to become a very important player here.
Besides the revenue performance, what I personally would like to hear in the future is that Omega is recognized as the top 5 partners for pharmacies in Poland.
What attracted you to join this Belgium company after having spent your career in the cosmetic business?
Omega Pharma is my first experience in the pharmaceutical industry. I started in the early 1990’s working at Wella (German cosmetic manufacturer) and then I joined the biggest cosmetic Polish company (Dr Irena Eris Cosmetic Laboratories SA) where I worked nine years. The reason why I joined Omega is because I wanted to learn more about the pharma business and I was given a great opportunity to lead the Polish affiliate of a multinational company, with a great pipeline and philosophy. Knowing that the company was small when I joined, and with so much room to grow the company in Poland, I was instantly attracted by this new challenge. To me it seemed like a startup, ready to blossom.
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