Two years ago (on June 9, 2010), when Home Diagnostics, Inc. was acquired by Nipro Diabetes Systems, Inc., (which is headquartered in Osaka, Japan), I didn't give the move too much thought.
Nipro used to sell an insulin pump known as the Amigo pump here in the U.S., but I believe that was discontinued a few years ago, although I believe the company may be planning to re-enter that space in the future. Users felt it was a very high-quality pump, but the product was never a top seller in the U.S. market, unlike in it's native market Japan. To some extent, Nipro and South Korean rival Dana Diabecare (Sooil) have a bit of a disadvantage working with sales forces that are often much smaller than big rivals Medtronic Minimed, Johnson & Johnson Animas, Roche/Disetronic (soon to include patch-pump Medingo Solo, see HERE), and even startup Insulet Omnipod. Both Nipro and Sooil have a bit of disadvantage in recruiting sales people here, because the bigger rivals find it much easier to lure sales people, many of whom are expected to use the products themselves since that enables them to speak on the virtues of a given product with knowledge only a user can realistically talk about.
Home Diagnostics was a Ft. Lauderdale, Florida-based company known for making low-priced blood glucose meters, often under the pharmacies' brand names. However, when the company announced last month (on October 10, 2012) that it would begin to ship to major retailers and wholesale distributors a new portfolio of more than 30 "ancillary products" (see the Press Release HERE) for individuals with diabetes, I thought that could be an interesting development since they seemed to be aiming at the private-label market. What kind of products was Nipro talking about? Well, the press release notes: "The TRUEplus™" line includes fast-acting glucose tablets, shots and gels; ketone strips; diabetic multivitamins; syringes, lancets and lancing devices."
Flurry of Innovation for Consumers, But Prices Should Be Lower Given The Competition
Making these things isn’t exactly rocket science and there are many subcontractors they can use, but the market had dominated by CanAm Care (CanAm was acquired by Perrigo in January 2012, see HERE for details), although in recent years we've seen a number of upstarts including Jungell, Inc.'s GlucoLift product, a 100% organic, non-GMO product which is sold primarily online at retailers like Amazon.com. It should be noted that the owner Chris Angell is person with type 1 diabetes himself. Others include Raritan Phamaceuticals which I first reported on it back in 2006 see HERE, as well as innovators such as Meals to Live which introduced (see the Press Release HERE) Glucose Quick Sticks last year, whose product is kind of like giant Pixie Stix (each contains 10 grams of dextrose) which is arguably more convenient than destroying one’s molars chewing traditional tablets. To the best of my knowledge, the product, which now sells at supermarket chains like Kroger as well as Walmart, is their sole business these days and the company may even have changed its name.
The other benefit those provide is that they are lighter to carry around than liquid which weighs a lot. Others, such as PBM Products, Inc. which marketed GlucoBurst gels and tablets (although the company had an even bigger private label infant formula business), were also acquired by Perrigo (primarily to own the infant formula business), hence they are now part of a large pharmaceutical entity and I would guess has pretty much been folded into Perrigo's CanAm Care business. Without digressing too far off topic, at the time of Nipro's ancillary diabetes product announcement, I didn't see any of their products on store shelves, so I pretty much forgot about the announcement and went back to my own daily life.
Landing Walmart’s Business; Consumer Prices Should Be Lower
Perrigo's CanAm Care unit was best known for making Dex4 products, which are more often sold under retailer's brand-names. Private label manufacture has become very lucrative for many companies as store-brands now rival traditional brands in quality, and store brands gained sales when the economy slowed (even consumer products giant P&G hasn't weathered the latest recession as well as the company did in the past, see HERE for more background). While this is good for retailers' bottom lines, the benefits of price competition for these contracts seldom seems to trickle down to retail consumer prices. However, some retailers do sell at better prices, including Costco Wholesale (whose pharmacy, incidentally, is barred by Federal law from requiring a membership to shop there), even if their selection is quite limited. Some makers of these products, including Perrigo's CanAm Care, have quietly started selling their directly to consumers, often for lower prices than can be obtained from even large retailers like Walmart or Costco, which I expect to see more of in the future.
In any event, during my trip to Walmart I also planned to restock on Liquid Glucose shots since I really HATE chewing on chalky tablets if I can avoid it. For me, juice boxes are just too damn slow and I find the taste of orange juice particularly disgusting, although I will drink apple juice. Anyway, while at Walmart, I saw a few of the traditional Relion Liquid Blast bottles on the shelf, but I also saw that those had largely been replaced (restocked) by bottles the resembled those caffeine shots that are endorsed by everyone from football players to Joan Rivers these days.
I grabbed a few without giving it too analysis thinking that maybe it was a new bottle was requested by the retailer, but when I got in the car, I looked at the label more closely, and it was clear: "Distributed by Nipro Diagnostics, Inc., Ft; Lauderdale, FL 33309".
Evidently, Nipro was willing to sell their own liquid glucose shots to Walmart for less, so the company dumped CanAm's Liquid Blast product faster than a hot potato as the saying goes. I wouldn't say that's final at this point, however, since Perrigo could potentially cut Walmart a better deal on the product, but for the moment, Nipro is the supplier of choice (at least for the Relion liquid glucose products). The price, however, was exactly the same, and it really should have been much lower, with the proceeds going directly to Walmart’s bottom line. Will Walmart start selling Nipro's glucose tablets, too? I wouldn't put past Walmart to do it, but I will say that sales by SKU will be a key factor. Consumer prices are NOT likely to be any lower since Walmart claims to be the low-price leader.
After Walmart dumped Raritan's glucose tablets a few years ago, they replaced them with CanAm's yucky orange and grape flavors, and sales tanked on the product (and complaints to the store increased a lot), so Walmart retooled and brought back a much better product that was made by CanAm, but as of right now, Nipro is supplying the liquid glucose products for Walmart. I haven't yet seen Nipro's tablet flavors on the shelves yet, but I suspect they too use the New Hampshire manufacturer known as P.J. Noyes Company I wrote about (see my post HERE) and the flavors are determined by the client, in this case Nipro.
I would say there's a fair chance that Nipro may also penetrate other retailers in the not-too-distant future, as most will respond to aggressive prices and Nipro already sells inexpensive testing supplies to many of them today. Walmart may be the largest retailer, but could we see CVS, Walgreens, Rite Aid, Target and others pick up Nipro's products? I suspect the answer could potentially be yes. We’ll see!
My First Sample of TRUEplus Glucose Shot
I sampled the Pomegranite flavor for the first time yesterday (apparently my SWAG insulin dosage for dinner wasn't very good). Anyway, a few observations on the Liquid Glucose Shot from Nipro itself: first, the flavor was only OK, but it was nothing terrific. Compared to Dex4's Berry Burst flavor, I'd say it's not quite as good, but it was better than those nasty orange glucose tablets many pharmacies think people seem to like because they've been selling the same ones for the past 30 years.
I did find opening the bottle of Nipro's liquid Glucose Shot a bit easier than opening the bottle of CanAm's Liquid Blast. That was good.
The perforation on the plastic-wrap surrounding the mouth of the bottle came off pretty easily, and I was very pleasantly surprised to find that there was absolutely no inner seal on the bottle. Once the cap is off, you can drink it. That's a big +1 in favor of Nipro's product, because the CanAm product has a difficult-to-open seal underneath all of that plastic.
On the minus side, the mouth of the bottle is very narrow, so unlike Dex4 Liquid Blast, it's much tougher to down the entire bottle like one would a tequila (or other liquor) shot at a bar. No one is drinking these things to savor the flavor folks, but that doesn't mean we're willing to consume glucose treatments that taste like $#!t, either.
I'm happier with the Lemon-Lime flavor which I thought wasn't supposed to taste like Kool-Aid. I haven't tried the Orange flavor yet ... my experience with orange tablets are not good, so I've resisted using that one until I have no other choice -- maybe I'll be pleasantly surprised. I'd like to see a Piña Colada or pineapple flavor, and less of this exotic bitter fruit like pomegranate, but someone thinks they're being trendy and creative.
Winning Walmart Was A Coup for Nipro, But the Win Could Be Short-Lived
By the way, the Press Release said the primary point of contact at Nipro Diagnostics, Inc. is the Vice President of Marketing, a woman named Lisa Nardi, telephone 800-342-7226, ext. 2183, email: email@example.com. I found CanAm's marketing folks were more than willing to listen to my complaints about not being able to open their Ft. Knox-styled wrapping on their bottles that are difficult to open with shaking hands caused by hypos (I even cited Brett Michaels' quote about them!), so it might be worth talking to Nipro about flavors you might like to see.
To be sure, Nipro's product line is decent, but Walmart isn't doing anyone any favors on prices -- they should be lower considering the deal they got from Nipro.
The reality is their prices really should be lower, and they've kept them the same. When you buy these products, I would ask you to think about the underlying economics. Chris Angell's GlucoLift tablets will be winning my future tablet business, although I'd like to see them introduce powdered and liquid vareities. After all, I don’t want dentures in my old age!
There's no telling how responsive Nipro will be to having a dialogue with the diabetes online community, but at least you have a contact name! I'm thinking of creating a poll below on what flavors the collective diabetes online community would like to see, both in liquid glucose drinks, and also old-fashioned glucose tablets, and also asking about the prices of these products. What do you think?
The bottom line is that Walmart got lower prices from Nipro which should be a good thing for consumers, but the only one’s celebrating are Walmart's shareholders. I think Robert Reich makes a very compelling point (see HERE), and we all should be asking the same questions.