2020 was a different year. For many, both people and companies, it was of course a difficult year but there are also many positive aspects worth highlighting. Above all, there are many lessons to learn and by taking these onboard and adapting our business accordingly, I am convinced that they will strengthen us as a company over time.
Like many other organisations, we succeeded in a short time in adjusting our operations to function almost entirely digitally, both internally and in collaboration with our customers. Among other things, together with our partners we arranged some 70 webinars for doctors and held a large number of digital customer meetings. We also succeeded with some 50 product launches with most of the launch symposia and other arrangements taking place virtually. I would like to especially mention our continued rollout of Osfortis, our product for bone health, which in addition to the USA now also is available in Sweden, Switzerland and very soon in Japan. Furthermore, BioGaia Gastrus has been launched in a large number of markets, primarily in Latin America. We have also strengthened our oral health portfolio with two new products, Prodentis Mum and Prodentis Kids, which were launched in Japan and the USA during the year.
Sales in 2020 got off to a strong start with growth in line with expectations and, despite the Covid-19 crisis starting seriously back in March, we had a sales growth of 7% in the first quarter. In the second quarter, growth was 10%. However, in the third quarter we could see that the pandemic was starting to have a negative impact on our sales and the full year ended with a 3% decrease. What we mainly saw was weak sales in some of our largest and oldest markets, such as Italy and Spain. Here, lengthy lockdowns affected BioGaia’s sales since consumers could not visit doctors and physical pharmacies where most of the sales in these countries take place. On the other hand, we saw good sales in countries where we have implemented an omnichannel strategy, such as the USA and China.
So one of the most important lessons comes from consumers. Lockdowns and restrictions on physical meetings led people to investigate digital alternatives. A growing number started to buy online. This transition and the results of changed buyer behaviour took place at a rate never seen before and has in many cases become ‘the new normal’. This strengthens us in our conviction that we need to invest more in marketing directly to consumers in many of our markets.
In parallel with this changed buying behaviour there is a global trend towards preventive healthcare. The pandemic has further strengthened this and people are increasing taking responsibility for their own health. Above all, we can see a strong increase in interest in the immune system and products that strengthen it. At the same time as we invest in both physical and online sales channels, we are also working with our partners to develop new products to strengthen BioGaia’s global brand and meet consumer needs. In the spring we are looking forward, among other things, to launching a totally new product portfolio in the USA with a focus on immune-strengthening products.
BioGaia’s focus on research is part of our DNA and one of our key competitive advantages. In terms of research, however, 2020 was for understandable reasons a tough year since many studies were delayed due to the pandemic. In 2021 on the other hand we look forward to the results from studies within several interesting areas, relating to both existing and totally new applications, including IBS, diverticulitis and upper respiratory tract infections.
In 2020, we took many decisive steps forward in our sustainability initiatives and the aim is to integrate this into operations at all levels. Among other things we implemented an internal Code of Conduct, a whistleblower function and all employees attended training in anti-corruption. The phase-out of palm oil continued and products free from milk protein, gluten and lactose were launched, as well as vegan capsules.
In a year such as this it was natural for us to expand our community engagement. Among other things we supported a local restaurant by purchasing meals that were then donated to the Karolinska Hospital and we donated hand disinfectant to the local hospital in Lund. We also supported the Panzi Hospital, run by Nobel peace laureate Doctor Mukwege, with Covid tests. Read more about our sustainability work here and in BioGaia’s first separate sustainability report, prepared in accordance with the Global Reporting Initiative Standards for sustainability reporting.
Finally, I would like to thank all BioGaia’s employees, our customers and other partners, for your patience and hard work in these difficult and challenging times, which enabled the successful implementation of our plans. I do hope that 2021 will be a year in which the world gradually returns to normal.
Isabelle Ducellier, CEO