The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) prohibits supplement marketers in the US from making disease claims, which is reserved for pharmaceuticals. In Canada, dietary supplements are called ‘Natural Health Products’ in its health authority’s official lingo.
“In Brazil we don’t have this ‘distance’ from supplements to pharma,” Di Donato told us in an email.
It’s not just a matter of terminology. In Brazil, which has a vitamin and dietary supplement market worth $652 million in 2017 in estimates by market research firm Euromonitor International, the national health authority ANVISA doesn’t regulate dietary supplements as its own category.
Instead, manufacturers and importers have to consider a wide set of laws related to food as well as medicine, deciding for themselves where their product best fits within the scheme.
This likely influences why Brazilian consumers view dietary supplements primarily a part of the pharmaceutical industry. It’s what Di Donato described as the ‘opposite’ of how many North American supplement brands market and position themselves—to make it in Brazil, supplement brands should align themselves with pharmaceuticals, which evokes transparency, scientific support, and high quality manufacturing.
The top-selling supplement brands, according to a Euromonitor report, come from pharmaceutical giants like Pfizer, Bayer, and Sanofi.
Bringing US products to Brazil
Di Donato’s company is an online platform that markets and distributes US brands of dietary supplements and pharmaceuticals to healthcare practitioners in Brazil. When it first launched a few years ago, it was originally called CareMundi.
It received a cash injection from a major VC firm in Brazil earlier this year, which marked an opportunity to rebrand. The name change to MyPharma2Go helps “communicate the message that we only work with prescription, and that is applied to supplements made with ‘pharmaceutical grade’ standards,” he said.
It also paves the way for pharmaceutical products to be on the platform. For now, per MyPharma2Go’s website at least, the company stocks and sells practitioner channel and direct-to-consumer supplement brands, such as Thorne Research and Celebrate Nutritional Supplements.
The cash injection also allowed the company to establish its own in-house courier arm. “It is a very important component that allows us to fully control the system,” Di Donato explained, “starting from the prescription, patient order, to door-to door-shipment. It also allows us to work with lab tests, sending collected materials from Brazil back to US.”
The company will focus on maintaining its platform as a practitioner channel service instead of going direct-to-consumer.
“We keep this route because we need to follow Anvisa’s regulation that allows importation to the end user only if they have prescription,” he said.
“So, we need to generate the demand from physicians to get that. We will open the direct-to-consumer area later this year.”