Project Description

How to sell to the pharmacies of the UAE

For those brands and suppliers whose health and wellness products can service the pharmacy channel, the UAE and its many active players in this arena can offer a wealth of opportunity. This is even more so given the high influx of business travellers and tourists who come to especially Dubai and may come across your brand- opening up a truly global opportunity.

Which are the main pharmacy chains in the UAE?

Aster

Aster has been the leading, more traditional pharmacy chain in the UAE for some time. Owned by Aster DM Healthcare this business encompasses over 200 physical pharmacies. In addition to their retail pharmacies Aster DM has an established network of speciality hospitals in the UAE and have recently expanded into India too.

Life Pharmacy

Life pharmacy is another major pharmacy group in the UAE, on a current aggressive expansion plan opening 10 pharmacies in one day in October 2021 and continuing to surpass over 300 outlets by the end of 2021.

Whilst Aster may be viewed as the more traditional pharmacy due to its links with its own hospitals, Life Pharmacy has taken on the role of being a more OTC and sports nutrition focused retailer with dedicated spaces also to healthy food items such as superfoods and protein powders and bars etc.

Supercare

Supercare is one of the oldest pharmacy chains that is prevalent in the UAE. Part of the large GMG group and boasting more than 50 outlets at present, it is also on an expansion programme to open several more stores in the coming months. Seen as a more premium offering, Supercare usually takes store locations that reflect this and have products priced and positioned in this regard too. They like to bring in brands that give a clear point of difference from the competition.

Other pharmacy chains to be aware of in the market include:

  • Med 7

  • Al Ain pharmacy

  • Boots

How do you approach a pharmacy chain with your product/offering?

Most of the larger pharmacy players in the UAE are able to directly import overseas brands and actually have their own trading arms set up too specifically for this purpose. This enables them to have reach not only into their own stores but also sell the brands which they take on from a distribution perspective to other channels such as the supermarkets (‘modern trade’) channel if appropriate and even to their direct competitors in the pharmacy field. It is something that continues to baffle many of the Europeans when they first come to the market to piece together the supply chain. Here are the names of the relevant distribution companies which are run as separate entities but still as part of the large pharmacy groups.

Pharmacy chain Trading arm
Aster Alfa One
Life Pharmacy Nutripharm
Supercare Vitamed

From a route to market (RTM) perspective, you have the ability to supply into a pharmacy retailer directly if they are interested in doing so and have the capability to import international brands. This can be done too if you, as the brand owner, are willing to invest in product listing fees and offering marketing and promotional support.  Be mindful that the margin expectations with a direct relationship with the pharmacy can still be eyewatering high and you need to be prepared for this. Many brands are not!

Another option is supplying through the pharmacy’s respective trading arm (if they have one). This may open up other wider market opportunities to supply other channels as well as their other competitors (depending on the exact type of product you sell and the other market segments it could be supplied into) and can certainly be worth considering as a possible RTM.

Of course, there is also the option of supplying the pharmacies via local on the ground distributors and wholesalers who already service this channel with existing complementary products in their portfolio.  There are many possibilities here including New Country Healthcare and Unicare. Remember to always vet your potential partner to ensure there are aligned synergies and values with them and that you have a clear market launch plan in place together.

Are there any other non- pharmacy channels which could be suitable?

It must be noted that in the UAE and the wider Middle East, the Doctor endorsement and prescription channel is one that many Western suppliers overlook as it is simply not something that is relevant in their home markets. However, depending on the specific nature of your product, promoting the product through this manner can be the differentiator and set you apart from the competition who try to go through the standard pharmacy retail channel.

For this you usually need to seek out more medically focused distributors who are focused on visiting private clinics and healthcare professionals as their prime activity.

Another channel that could be open to you for sales and distribution is the growing number of bricks and mortar health and nutrition stores such as Dr Nutrition, Holland and Barrett, Good Health. Certain more health food focused and sports nutrition brands can often find a home in these outlets.

For those brands in the sports nutrition/fitness ares who are looking for more ‘out of the box thinking’ with market entry options (especially if budgets to enter the market are minimal) a further idea is to find ways to work with some of the many sporting channels that doesn’t have a high price investment tag. This could include sponsoring some of the many sporting events in the UAE with free goods or targeting those outlets who specifically cater to some of the many popular sports in this market such as cycling or endurance sports.

Finally, we shouldn’t forget the growing online space with e marketplaces such as I herb and Noon in the UAE. It has taken some time for this channel to open in in this market due to the online sales of specialised and regulated products being heavily restricted. However, along with many other changes brought about by the Covid-19 era, the growth of online purchases for consumers of health and wellness products has exploded, especially given the low base for ecommerce business from previous years.

So you can see that there are a number of market entry options to explore when looking to take your health and wellness products into the UAE. For more advice on other Gulf markets then check out our articles below on the pharmacies of the Saudi Arabia as well as health and wellness in the Gulf. If you would like to discuss more advice and market entry support for your brand to enter the UAE market then get in touch and one of our team will gladly come back to you.

Health & Wellness in the Gulf

READ ARTICLE

Pharmacies of Saudi Arabia

READ ARTICLE
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