Firm blazes pharmaceutical trail
WHILE Lesotho is known for its textile and garment manufacturing prowess, local enterprise Tripharm Agencies is determined to establish another sector to the country’s manufacturing profile; cosmetic and pharmaceutical production.
Manufacturing and supplying a wide range of cosmetic products and readymade pharmaceutical drugs for the local market, Tripharm has made remarkable inroads in mainstreaming the pharmaceutical sector while contributing to the country’s developmental needs.
The Maseru West-based company employs 56 people and supplies major supermarket chains, Shoprite and Pick n Pay, as well as other retail outlets. It is also looking beyond Lesotho’s borders to the South African and southern African markets.
According to Tripharm Agencies directors, Craig Smith and Maud Boikanyo, the com- pany started off in 1990 as a pharmaceutical wholesaler for local health centres and pharmacies.
“This business was established around 1990 with pharmacy and wholesaling as the original businesses. Other than the government medical store and a few Indian outlets, there was no reliable supplier of medication in Lesotho during those days. All the drugs in the market came from South Africa,” said Mr Smith, who is also the company’s financial director.
He said there were many challenges associated with importing drugs from the then apartheid South Africa.
“Due to the apartheid regime, there were a lot of challenges that made it difficult to import drugs into Lesotho when they were needed,” Mr Smith said.
“So our company received a lot of support from Basotho and had to increase its capacity in order to meet the growing demand.”
He added: “We were out of space in our initial building in no time, and by 1995, it was far too small to accommodate our operations. So, we had to look for alternative accommodation, and the LNDC (Lesotho National Development Corporation) offered us the space where we are operating from, which we later bought.”
The closure of one of Tripharm Agencies’ South African supplier came with a silver lining, as the company then diversified into manufacturing.
“We realised back in 1995 that we needed to diversify, and decided to look at venturing into manufacturing,” said Mr Smith.
“During that time, one of the companies that was supplying us in South Africa closed down. So we bought all their production formulations although we could not manufacture the whole range of products due to limited facilities.”
From then on, he said, their focus was on manufacturing. The pharmaceutical wholesaling division is still operational, although it now accounted for a small part of the business.
While the company’s capacity had developed exponentially over the years, it had not kept pace with the ever growing market demand.
Mr Smith said space constraints were now holding the company back although they were exploring some options to address the challenge.
“We are considering some avenues to address this challenge, like contract manufacturing in South Africa to help us increase our capacity. “As it is, this factory is not able to meet the local demand. The Shoprite group is keen to sell our cosmetic products in the Free State region, so we would need 10 times the capacity we currently have.”
He continued: “If Shoprite says we want 100 boxes today, and we don’t supply them, they will take their business elsewhere. So, we are actively exploring other avenues, including contract manufacturing, where we would approach a reputable manufacturing company in South Africa with the capacity to produce the right quality and quantity of our products.”
However, Ms Boikanyo was quick to emphasise that the contract manufacturing would be a mere stopgap measure while the company increased its capacity.
“It would be a temporary measure while we sort ourselves out. The contract manufacturing would also afford us the opportunity to learn further how we can meet South African quality standards.”
She added that their products were doing so well in the market due to adherence to quality standards.
“Tripharm Agencies has an in-house testing laboratory which ensures that our products meet the right standards before being distributed to the market,” said Ms Boikanyo.
“We are proud that our products are sold in Shoprite and Pick n Pay stores which is not an easy thing to do. It is due to our adherence to quality standards. We also send our products to the National University of Lesotho for further testing.”
Mr Smith chipped in saying their products had made such a positive impression to the Shoprite group that in 2015 they won a regional award for up-and-coming suppliers during the group’s Big Brand competition.
“We were shocked and could not believe that we won such an award. We never imagined that there was a remote possibility of us winning the award for up-and-coming suppliers from the northern Free State province and Lesotho region,” he said.
“We were also nominated for a national award although the accolade was eventually won by a South African company.”
The firm’s expansion plans, Mr Smith said, were no longer confined to South Africa, but the southern Africa region.
“We receive constant calls from retailers around the southern Africa region who want to sell our products in their stores.
“The retailers are from such countries as Namibia, Botswana, Kenya and Zimbabwe among others.
“So, there is a really huge potential for us out there. But, as we have already alluded, our first target is to make inroads in South Africa and then the rest will follow.”
He said they were also in the process of demolishing their building to construct a two-story structure that would have more space.
“We came to a decision to expand this building by adding floors on top of the current structure. This is a very old building which we estimate to be around 50-years old and therefore it is very difficult to renovate,” said Mr Smith.
“So, the best way is to build two stories on the current site. Thereafter, we will complete the upstairs floor first and then move operations there in order to knock the walls downstairs and build afresh.”
He added that after the expansion, the company intended to manufacture more products such as cough mixtures and other drugs.
Tripharm agencies Finacial Director Craig Smith in the company’s pharmacy.
Some of the workers in the campany’s packaging room.
Tripharm co-director maud Boikanyo.