In 1993, Ego Pharmaceuticals became the first Australian skincare company to export to the Middle East.
It was a market that knew little about Australia, let alone Australian skincare. The company had no profile among consumers, healthcare professionals or retailers. What it did have was determination and a long-term commitment to the market.
In September 2023, Ego will celebrate 30 years in the Middle East. The region accounts for 50% of the company’s total exports and 25% of total business. The company has 110 staff across 7 Middle Eastern countries. It is moving to a new centrally located office in Dubai in September. It is working to open a regional HQ in Saudi Arabia in 2023.
‘Ego entered the Middle East when we were a small company,’ says Alan Oppenheim, Ego Pharmaceuticals’ Managing Director. ‘I’m so proud of the work our people in Australia and the Middle East have done over the last 3 decades to get us to where we are today. It’s a great feeling knowing our products can help treat children with chronic eczema and adults who want healthy skin.’
Ego was founded 70 years ago in 1953 by Alan’s parents, Gerald and Rae. Gerald, a chemist, used his scientific knowledge to formulate products that restored and maintained healthy skin. Rae, a nurse, communicated the benefits of the products to dermatologists across Australia. Together, they established Ego as innovators in the scientific development of dermatology products.
Today, Ego offers over 150 skincare products, ranging from sunscreen to hand sanitiser and topical products for eczema and chronic skin conditions. Its QV Skincare brand is the leading sensitive skincare brand recommended by healthcare professionals in Australia.
Ego’s export journey to the Middle East began in the early 1990s with a cold call. A small consulting company contacted Ego to ask if it was interested in exporting to the Middle East. Oppenheim asked for more information on the market and regulatory requirements.
‘As a small company then, we knew it would be challenging to meet the regulatory requirements,’ says Oppenheim. ‘The culture would be vastly different. But the consultant’s report showed there were gaps in the market our products could fill. There was little excuse not to enter the region.’
Ego launched in the UAE in 1993. The early days were about educating the market about Australia.
‘We talked about the rigorous quality manufacturing processes of our products to meet TGA’s international pharmaceutical standards,’ recalls Oppenheim. ‘We highlighted that multinational pharmaceutical companies made products in Australia because of our high manufacturing standards.’
In the early 1990s, European multinationals diverted their attention from their Middle Eastern operations to focus on the development of the EU trading bloc. Ego seized the opportunity to start building its brand and forging relationships with healthcare professionals at trade shows and conferences. They explained to dermatologists, pharmacists, nurses and GPs how Ego’s science-backed formulations could treat and prevent skin issues.
‘We had a fantastic reaction,’ says Oppenheim. ‘There was a genuine curiosity about Australia and Australian products.’
The Australian Government and Austrade were early supporters. The Australian Ambassador to Saudi Arabia attended Ego’s launch in the kingdom in 2003. The High Commissioners in Oman and Kuwait supported Ego’s launch in these countries, as did Austrade.
‘The presence of senior government officials adds invaluable credibility when you’re an unknown company launching in a new market,’ says Oppenheim.
Ego regularly asks Austrade for advice on regulatory issues and market entry. Austrade has also provided introductions to government officials across the region.
Ego’s tireless work is reflected in its steady growth. After launching in the UAE, the company entered Bahrain in 1998, Jordan in 1999, Saudi Arabia in 2003, Kuwait in 2004, Qatar in 2007 and Oman in 2015.
‘It took 10 years of persistent work before we could launch in Saudi Arabia,’ says Oppenheim. ‘I’m proud that today Ego is the number one skincare brand in the kingdom.’
In 2015, Ego won the Health and Biotechnology award at the Australian Export Awards. In 2017, the company won the Manufacturing Export Award and was the Australian Exporter of the Year.
Ego’s export success has enabled the company to continually invest in its Australian operations. The company will upgrade its manufacturing facility at Braeside in Victoria with 2 new world-class filling lines. It will also extend its global distribution centre in Dandenong South. These investments will increase Ego’s production capacity by 100% and create 90 new jobs. The project will receive $3.7 million in funding from the Victorian Government.
Ego’s new regional HQ in Saudi Arabia is testament to its commitment to the region. The company has a distributor in Jordan and a full-time employee responsible for driving business development. It has done some business in Egypt and Iraq and wants to explore more opportunities.
‘The Middle East is Ego’s largest market outside of Australia,’ says Oppenheim. ‘Our operations there are a model for the rest of the world. We see more growth, more jobs and more investment in the region.’