Attracting and retaining patients with contact lens products has become increasingly difficult with the rise of online retailers. But Menicon Australia is one major manufacturer choosing to stick by independents with a portfolio spanning across daily disposables and specialty contact lenses.
With the lean operating structures and the increasing sophistication of e-commerce operators today, never has it been more important for independent optometrists to provide a premium service to wrestle back control of their contact lens business.
The presence of online stores – that offer convenience and rock-bottom rates for major contact lens brands – has chipped at the bottom line of mainstream optometrists for years. And it shows no sign of abating, with a recent IBIS World report showing online glasses and contact lens sales in Australia have increased 7% annually since 2016, reaching $140 million this year.
While many big-name contact lens manufacturers have made their products available to e-commerce operators, Menicon is one major player who refuses to do so, in the name of protecting the independent’s business interest.
Mr Angelo Doumbos, the managing director of Menicon Australia, says the company is perhaps best known among local practitioners for its traditional strengths in rigid gas permeable (RGP) orthokeratology (ortho-k) lenses and contact lens care solutions. But it has seen an increasing number of optometrists add its Miru daily disposables to their contact lens offering.
“We’re fiercely independent so consumers won’t find our contact lenses on major online retail platforms, but they can find them on the optometrist’s own e-commerce site if they have one,” he says.
“While we might not get much visibility for that, we are trying to send a strong message to independent optometrists that we are here for them. If their patients are happy with our contact lenses, it is highly unlikely they will go elsewhere or purchase them online. Many independents have cottoned on to that and love us for it.”
Doumbos says e-commerce will become more sophisticated as artificial intelligence and big data evolves. But patients still need to visit the optometrist for their prescription. If they are satisfied with the experience and impressed with a product they haven’t seen anywhere else, it creates an opportunity for the practitioner.
“To help facilitate that repeatability of sale, we are also developing a platform to enable practitioners to sell via their own e-commerce website, so patients have that online convenience. As the market evolves it will still boil down to the customer experience in the practice, and ultimately that is a conversation we love to have with the practitioner about their contact lens portfolio. There is huge value still to capture in the contact lens market.”
Celebrating seven decades
Menicon is Japan’s oldest contact lens manufacturer that today services more than 80 countries as the world’s fifth largest contact lens company.
This year marks its 70th anniversary. The company has unique origins that can be traced to the Tamamizuya optical shop in the city of Nagoya. That’s where, in 1950, 19-year-old Kyoichi Tanaka first heard of contact lenses from the wife of a US Army officer. From this encounter, he developed Japan’s first corneal contact lens in 1951.
Thus, Menicon was spawned. Its products have been present in Australia since the early 1980s when the then-groundbreaking Menicon O2 – the first RGP lens – was introduced, along with its partner lens care solution, O2 Care. Its products have been continuously available in Australia since then through various distributors.
This changed in 2011 when the parent company (Menicon Co Ltd) acquired the distribution business of Mr Mark Whibley to establish the wholly owned subsidiary, Menicon Australia, in Adelaide, South Australia. Whibley retired as managing director of Menicon Australia in July 2020, handing the reins to Doumbos who has 17 years’ experience in the optical industry, many of those working for Hoya.
Menicon’s Australian operation is modest, with around 10 staff that includes sales reps in New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia and Western Australia. This is expected to expand as the company launches new products in daily disposables, RGP lenses, ortho-k and its Menicon Bloom system, the world’s first first ortho-k lens with a myopia control approval.
In the Australian market, Doumbos says a key priority is to raise the profile of Menicon among practitioners.
“Australia has always been regarded by Menicon as an important region. “Our eyecare professionals are world-class and we’re lucky to have highly educated and experienced optometrists. But also, our multicultural diversity provides a unique position in the global market for research and development.”
To date, Doumbos says Menicon’s largest contribution is within myopia management and ortho-k, as well as RGP lenses. Its contact lens care solutions Menicare Plus and Progent are highly regarded products for RGP lenses. Ortho-k lenses such as Menicon Z Night and Alpha Ortho-K have been growing month-on-month since their introduction. Recently, the company’s Miru daily lenses have been building a fanbase too. It features the unique Miru 1day Menicon Flat Pack packaging, which, at barely 1mm thick, is eight times thinner than conventional blister packs.
As such, myopia control and daily disposables are the two main growth targets for Menicon in Australia and New Zealand.
“We make unique, hard to replicate technology on our disposable lenses. For example, Smart Touch technology, exclusive to Menicon in our Miru family, gives the wearer unique value of ultimate hygiene and convenience,” Doumbos says.
“There is no need to touch the inner surface of the lens upon wearing the lens. And now with hygiene being ever more important as highlighted by COVID-19, the eyecare professional has a unique offering to the customer.”
Within the myopia category, Doumbos says Menicon has blazed a trail with the Menicon Bloom Myopia Control Management System. The system features Menicon Bloom Night, the first CE-approved ortho-k contact lens for myopia control management. It was approved in Europe in 2019 and will be launched in Australia this year.
“There’s a lot of excitement because now you have an ortho-k lens that has a specific myopia control certification,” Doumbos says.
“Traditionally ortho-k has been used off-label so this is a major milestone. With the availability of disposable soft contact lenses for myopia, as well as spectacle lenses and atropine, having an approved ortho-k lens now means eyecare professionals have more options to manage their myopia patients.”
Doumbos says the Menicon Bloom system is a holistic approach to myopia management. It includes specialised software called Bloom Easyfit that guides the optometrist through the fitting process. A specially designed mobile phone app, Menicon’s Bloom app, has been developed to enhance the monitoring and communication process between eyecare professionals and patients. There’s also plans to allow more topographers to communicate with the software to facilitate lens ordering.
Following the European launch of Menicon Bloom, the company penned a global strategic collaboration with Johnson & Johnson Vision. Johnson & Johnson will focus on expanding availability of the lenses around the world, while Menicon will develop and manufacture the therapeutic contact lenses to manage the progression of myopia in children.
As one of the world’s major contact lens manufacturers, Menicon has an expansive global footprint that comprises two production facilities and a technology centre in Japan, a laboratory in The Netherlands, and a major contact lens solutions facility in France. This is in addition to a distribution centre in Germany and a site in Singapore where its Miru 1day Menicon Flat Pack is manufactured. In 2019, it also acquired Soleko, a major Italian contact lens company.
With contact lens production and packaging being major contributors to pollution and waste, Doumbos says the company is acutely aware of the need for sustainable development goals.
He says the plastics used in the manufacturing process are regarded as a high-quality resource, so the company seeks to use it effectively inside and outside of its factories.
“For example, at the Seki and Kakamigahara plants in Japan, the plastics used in these factories are utilised as a raw material for various plastic products by a local recycling company, and in the Singapore plant, approximately 40% of the used plastics are reused as a raw material for the secondary packaging. The remaining plastics are handed over to a recycling company,” he says.
“On the roof of the Emmen Plant in The Netherlands, 550 solar panels were installed which can provide 150 MWh of electricity annually. Water is recognised as an important resource for contact lenses. At the Kakamigahara Plant, established in 2015, a pure water production device has been adopted to save 50% of water usage.”
The company has also looked further than its manufacturing processes. The daily disposable Miru 1day Menicon Flat Pack requires 80% less plastic compared to conventional products. The package is produced by reusing 100% of plastics from the contact lens manufacturing process.
Elsewhere, a new manufacturing technique has seen the company achieve up to a 30% reduction in plastic materials used in its bottles for lens care products.
“With RGP lenses produced at the Emmen Plant in The Netherlands, we were looking for a sustainable solution with the development of new packaging for our lenses and our mailing envelopes,” Doumbos adds.
“They are now made from a more sustainable and recyclable material, so we can further reduce our footprint.”