Acofarma: past, present and future
Until the beginning of the 20th century, medications were essentially preparations that pharmacists made in their back-shops. Industrial medications barely existed, and apothecaries and other unregulated establishments, such as shopkeepers and herbalists, offered their services to prepare substances of diverse natures, which created a heightened risk of unregulated practice and health dangers.
At the start of the 19th century in Europe, the cooperative doctrine rose to significance and established a new legal associative form known as cooperative society.
The origins of pharmaceutical cooperation can be found in a protest movement within the pharmaceutical profession in the late 19th and turn of the 20th century as a response to issues raised by the industrialisation of medication and continuous attacks by middlemen with no connection to the pharmaceutical profession.
In very few economic sectors of our country can you find an associationist movement with the same scope and efficiency that was characteristic of the pharmaceutical sector movement. At the start of the 20th century, Spanish pharmacists joined together by region to form pharmaceutical distribution cooperatives. The goal of these cooperatives was for Spanish pharmacies, as healthcare establishments and the first link in the healthcare chain, to have immediate access to the more than 40,000 references that a pharmacy can offer. The goal was to achieve all of this under equal conditions and without differential treatment for pharmacies both large and small, for pharmacies in the centre of capital cities as well as rural pharmacies far from regular distribution circuits. This grouping together represented the birth of what is today the Mediterranean distribution model, also known as the solidarity distribution model.
In May of 1947, the Spanish pharmaceutical cooperatives officially formed an association to defend their professional interests, thus creating the Technical Group of Pharmaceutical Cooperatives, the inception of what Acofarma is today, framed within the National Union of Industrial Cooperatives. On 2 December 1960, Acofar, Association of Pharmaceutical Cooperatives, was formed by 20 cooperatives. The purpose of the group is wide-reaching and not only intends to function as a service entity for its associates, but also to serve as an instrument and financial middleman in their operations, while also providing numerous services through its various departments: General Secretariat, Commercial Initiatives DIC, Publications and Studies. The general policy has always been that “cooperation is not imposed upon others, it is merely suggested”.
The financial support services for pharmacy professionals were so successful that the large business volume lead to the formation of what is currently the bank for pharmacists, Bancofar, the current leader in the pharmaceutical sector and in which the cooperatives and Acofarma maintain significant participation.
After much effort, the Association of Pharmaceutical Cooperatives, S. Coop. Acofarma was created. The association was formed at El Escorial on 12 May 1972 with the approval of the 32 existing cooperatives. The entity’s essential purpose is to supply the most comprehensive range possible of chemical-pharmaceutical and over-the-counter products to ensure ideal pharmacy services and operations; this service is offered through the associated cooperatives that comprise the group. Twenty-nine cooperatives currently comprise the Acofarma association, bringing together more than 15,000 pharmacies throughout Spain.
Acofarma started its activity in modest facilities in Barcelona and later moved to its own larger space in the city centre. When the new facilities were no longer sufficient due to the volume of business, Mr José María Morera Segalá, director of the Commercial Initiatives D.I.C. department thought of the idea to create a brand of own products unique to the Acofar name, and a large factory that could also serve as a warehouse, distribution centre and production plant for specific products. The dream of building a factory with the installations and floor area that the cooperatives required became possible when a 15,000 square metre parcel of land was acquired in Terrassa (Barcelona), which was later inaugurated in 1978.
At its core, Acofarma has also managed initiatives such as the Acofar Journal, the first journal in the sector to be printed without interruption since 1963, and which currently prints and distributes 20,000 copies; sectoral, legal, computing or purchasing benchmarking services focus on allowing Acofarma partners, and indirectly their pharmacies, to benefit from the synergies and economies of scale that the union of our collective offers.
Over more than 65 years, Acofarma has been a pioneer in multiple fields, particularly in creating the first private label, or own brand, in our country and in any sector: Acofar.
In 2003, Acofarma began a new phase including a technical and commercial overhaul, which culminated in 2007 with a corporate transformation: the second-degree cooperative remains as the equity firm and service provider, while commercial activity from its own brand was separated to a subsidiary association, Acofarma Distribución S.A., whose shareholders are the same as those of Acofarma and its partners.
Today, Acofarma is owned by 29 Spanish pharmaceutical cooperatives and is therefore property of the pharmacies themselves.
The pharmaceutical cooperatives currently offer much more than logistical services for purchasing, storage and supply (up to 6 daily deliveries). They offer Spanish pharmacies highly valuable services for both professionals and patients, such as software packages, continuing education, financial support, sales support, and much more.
These services and support is possible because the pharmaceutical distribution cooperatives are non-profit, and solely seek to provide services to their owners. This is their sole business mission and is therefore included within Acofarma’s mission, which, after 65 years, is dedicated to improving our country’s pharmaceutical distribution systems and defending the pharmaceutical profession.
Acofarma complies with the strictest regulations, such as the Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP-II) or the Good Distribution Practices (GDP). It also holds the CE Marking for Healthcare Products.
It has a team of 70 highly qualified people and a sales team that covers the entire national territory and regularly visits more than 15,000 pharmacies.
In 2015 Acofarma closed its turnover with more than 22 million consolidated euros, and sustained growth that has allowed the association to almost double its volume over the past 10 years.
Acofarma has a wide product range, including 5,000 chemical product items and more than 1,000 over-the-counter items, and is a market leader in key categories such as dermatological health, sterile bandages and diagnostic products See our product guide.
An encouraging future
Acofarma’s destiny is connected to the distribution, pharmacy, formulation and development of own brands.
Cooperative distribution is in the middle of a renewal and concentration process, which will make it stronger and enable it to deal with an ever more demanding environment. To this effect, pharmacy and the Mediterranean model have a great future ahead of them.
Compounding, which was forgotten to a large extent in the 90s, has regained strength and become current once again by proving to be an effective tool for personalised treatment, currently a modern trend. We no longer talk about compounding, but rather bespoke preparations for the needs of each customer. Healthcare authorities are ever more committed to this therapeutic tool and compounding has once again piqued the interest of pharmacists and those who prescribe medications, and Acofarma has been providing those professionals with the necessary knowledge and training for many years now through compounder’s associations.
Little more can be said about the future of own brands, as they have been remarkably successful, coming to represent close to 40% of sales in mass retail channels and close to 18% in pharmacy use with significant sustained growth. Own brands have shown that they are here to stay, and the pharmacy brand has a long path ahead as it provides advantages to those both selling and buying it.