In a closed video conference, Vitus owner warns Norsk Medisinaldepot about consequences for suppliers who sell medicines through grocery stores. The pharmaceutical industry is reacting to the statements.
In a video meeting ahead of the negotiations between the Norwegian Medicines Agency and suppliers this autumn, a clear message was given about what it is believed that over-the-counter medicines are sold outside pharmacies.
– So you as suppliers have two choices: Either you choose to be pharmacy-friendly and focus fully on us, or you choose to be LUA-friendly with the consequences it has, says a leader in the Norwegian Medicines Depot.
It is the country’s second largest wholesaler of medicines, and is behind the chains Vitusapotek and Ditt Apotek.
– Riding these two horses at the same time is in our head completely impossible, says the leader in the video E24 has gained access to.
“LUA” is an abbreviation for non-pharmacy medicines.
In 2003, changes were made to the law so that grocery stores, kiosks and petrol stations could sell paracetamol, ibux and other over-the-counter medicines over the counter, which has led to the grocery industry taking over the majority of sales of such types of products.
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Dropped products from store-friendly suppliers
The leader of the Vitus owner is clear in the video that his message will also lead to reactions.
– For those of you who follow the details of what we do in terms of assortment, you may want to see that what we are talking about is not just empty words. We have action behind it, he says and continues:
– The last couple of years we have removed a number of things from our range that we believe are LUA-friendly, and in addition we have chosen to say no to one of the last major OTC launches (over-the-counter drugs journ.anm.) Recently year, precisely for the same reason.
The leader further says that “You who choose to be LUA – friendly will have consequences”.
– It will be more difficult conditions for you with us, both in the short term, but not least in the long term, he says.
Karita Bekkemellem, leader of the industry organization Pharmaceutical Industry, reacts very strongly to this.
– It is shocking that serious players use such methods. It is completely unacceptable, says Bekkemellem to E24, which represents over 60 companies in the industry.
She says the Norwegian Medicines Depot undermines the scheme which ensures that over-the-counter medicines in stores, and thus limits the selection to consumers.
– You have a neck grip on the suppliers.
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The Norwegian Competition Authority contacted
The statements from Vitus owner Norsk Medisinaldepot are so serious that the pharmaceutical industry has taken this to the Norwegian Competition Authority, and shown them the video that E24 has also been given access to.
– Competition in the market is sabotaged, and we have therefore chosen to take this to the Norwegian Competition Authority for a legal assessment, says Bekkemellem.
She adds that the case becomes extra serious when it is known that the Norwegian Medicines Depot has a third of the pharmacy market.
The top of the drug further says that her members feel put in a very uncomfortable position when entering the negotiations this autumn.
The Norwegian Competition Authority monitors the industry
Beate Berrefjord is the Norwegian Competition Authority’s deputy head of the department for food, trade and health, and will be able to comment on a general basis.
– We have not made any concrete assessment of this case, but in general we think it is worrying when players actively and openly state that they want to limit competition in a large market, she says to E24.
Berrefjord emphasizes that she speaks in general terms, but points out that if a major player tries to pressure someone to take part in a collaboration that distorts competition, there may be a violation of section 10 of the Competition Act.
In other words, if actors join forces to prevent drugs from being sold through the hat scheme, it could be a violation of the law.
Berrefjord further points out that the scheme which means that painkillers and nasal sprays can be sold outside pharmacies, is there to ensure sales in several types of sales channels and will be able to intensify competition both in terms of price and availability, for the benefit of consumers.
She says that “all kinds of attempts to prevent that kind of competition will be very unfortunate, and something one will be aware of”.
– It is also important to say to the suppliers, and we have also said this to the pharmaceutical industry, that both parties in an agreement have a responsibility not to restrict competition, says Berrefjord.
Vitus owner: Taken out of context
Miriam Thistel, Communications Director at the Norwegian Medicines Agency, believes that the statements the leader makes in the video are taken out of context.
She understands that it can be perceived as negative, but believes that it is not about restricting competition, rather that one is critical of people buying medicines such as paracetamol and nasal sprays in stores without pharmaceutical guidance.
– What consequences will it have for suppliers who sell to both pharmacies and stores?
– None. All products covered by the LUA scheme are available in our pharmacies and in our online pharmacy, says Thistel, who believes that the pharmacy always puts customers first.
E24 has asked what the leader means by “consequences” in the video, but has not received an answer to this.
– Can not such statements ensure that the Norwegian population has a poorer selection in both pharmacies and shops?
– No, we mean. Vitusapotek has all LUA products (over-the-counter medicines, journ.anm) in its range. We strongly disagree with statements that indicate that we are boycotting or sabotaging LUA products, she says with reference to Bekkemellem’s statements.
She believes it is wrong that this undermines the scheme that allows people to buy paracetamol and ibux in stores, as Bekkemellem claims, and notes that the company is free to choose its range, and suppliers are free to sell where they want.
E24 has also asked which products have been dropped as a result of suppliers not being pharmacy-friendly, but has not received any overview of this.
Want exclusivity agreements
It also appears in the video that the Vitus owner wants exclusive agreements with the suppliers.
– Exclusivity agreements, we love that. Feel free to come to us with suggestions about it, says the manager.
Bekkemellem says that the conflict over sales in shops and pharmacies is something that stretches back many years, but that she thought this was a bygone chapter.
– I believe that the pharmacy market and sales in stores must be able to live side by side. We do not find ourselves in this, she says.