Farmasiet’s only physical pharmacy is located in a slightly secluded commercial area of Vestby in Follo.
According to founder Stig Henning Pedersen of Sandefjord, there have only been two customers at the pharmacy since opening in 2021.
It has now been over a year since the last customer visit.
The outlet only exists because the Norwegian Pharmacy Law requires that online pharmacies have physical outlets.
As the pharmacy shows, Farmasiet is doing as little as possible to attract customers there.
Waste of money
The pharmacy at Vestby in Followo must be available to customers on weekdays between 09.00 and 15.30. But those who work there also have other tasks in online pharmacies.
It’s a waste of money, says Pedersen, to set up and furnish a pharmacy for customers you know won’t come.
Farmasiet’s management believes that this is one of several outdated rules that hinder competition, and drive up the price of over-the-counter medicines in Norway.
Goods must be purchased from competitors
What Farmasiet reacts most to is that they have to buy all the drugs from their biggest competitor.
The three major international chains Apotek1, Vitusapotek and Boots are also the three authorized wholesalers in the country.
Drug wholesalers in Norway are required to be able to deliver medicines to pharmacies across the country within 24 hours.
Pedersen believes this rule makes it virtually impossible for others to start their own wholesale business.
– If we create a wholesaler today, we risk that tomorrow there will be orders from all over Norway. From fifty different pharmacies controlled by our competitors, who require us to send an item here and there.
They might then be forced to send transport to, for example, Hammerfest, Molde and Kristiansand, Pedersen explains, with two items in each parcel.
– It goes without saying that it can cause us significant losses, says Pedersen.
Paracetamol for ten crowns
The rule against advertising quotations on over-the-counter drugs is another rule that does not please the pharmacy.
The online pharmacy was greeted with strong reactions when in 2020 it launched a campaign with Parasite, Norway’s best-selling drug, at ten kronor per box.
The chief researcher at the Oslo Met, Siv Skarstein, among others, told Dagbladet that this is very unfortunate and not at all beneficial for public health.
The reason is that many people already use a lot of over-the-counter painkillers.
– I stated in October 2020 that this will likely lead to increased consumption.
But this rule also makes it possible for big players to keep prices high, Stig Henning Pedersen of Farmasiet believes.
– Not many Norwegian consumers know that there are more affordable alternatives than others, he says.
The Norwegian Competition Authority is also interested in price information in the pharmaceutical industry.
They criticize the continued ad blocking.
– The Norwegian Competition Authority cannot see that there is a documented relationship between a lower price and increased abuse, and therefore wants to open up an opportunity to announce the price, they wrote in a press release.
More online sales in Sweden
Farmasiet is not the only independent online pharmacy that wants major changes to Norway’s pharmacy law.
Swedish online pharmacy Apotera, which has also invested in Norway, feels that it is much worse for a newcomer to establish itself here than in Sweden.
There, more drugstore products are sold online than in physical outlets.
According to Apotera Managing Director Patrick Hjetland, online sales account for about 20 percent of drug sales in Sweden, compared to just 2 percent in Norway.
– We are very far behind. Much of the reason, Hjetland believes, may lie in organisation.
I think the pharmacy system is doing well
The pharmacy and Apotera recorded the demand for the changes during a recently concluded advisory round for a new pharmacy law.
On the other hand, well-established players in the pharmaceutical industry would like to retain the main principles in the current regulations.
In Apotekforeningen, most of the member pharmacies are owned by large chains. They believe the current arrangements are working well.
– There is high reliability in delivery, and we already have among the lowest prices for prescription drugs in Europe, says Thor-Arne Englund, director of business policy at Apotekforeningen.
An important reason for the lower prices is that Norway has three large wholesalers that operate efficiently, compete and have economies of scale that customers can benefit from, Englund points out.
Apotekforeningen receives support from the committee that investigated the current pharmacy law.
They assert that the current rules have led to an increase in the number of pharmacies and better access to medicines in large parts of the country.
According to the commission, major changes could also reduce the security of drug supply in Norway, because the market becomes less interesting for major players.
It is the politicians in the European Parliament who ultimately decide whether there will be changes to the pharmacy law.
Trols Vasvik speaks on behalf of the Labor Party and will not push any changes.
– Here it is necessary to have several ideas in the head at the same time, says Vasvik, who is a member of the Health and Welfare Committee.
– It is important that the prices sold to the consumer are low, and at the same time it is important that the whole country has equal access to medicines and pharmaceutical products, he says.
While Pharmaset is waiting for politicians to consider the new pharmacy law, they still have to keep sales alive on Vestby.
Until now, it was not very profitable to challenge international chains in the pharmaceutical industry in Norway.
Since inception, Farmasiet has spent NOK 276 million building an online pharmacy. Although the turnover has increased dramatically, the numbers are still red after nearly ten years.
This wasn’t the plan when they started in Sandefjord with the Komplett Group behind them in 2014. The same year that online pharmacies were allowed into Norway.
– We started from the fact that online pharmacies were something that Norwegian consumers wanted and the authorities encouraged.
Things went slower than we thought, and the cheers weren’t quite as good as we’d hoped, Stig Henning Pedersen realizes.
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