Over the past four decades CooperVision, Inc. has established itself as a leading international soft contact lens manufacturer with more than 12,000 employees in more than 100 countries. Founded in 1980 the company is headquartered in San Ramon, California with Canadian operations spearheaded out of Richmond Hill, Ontario, north of Toronto. CooperVision produces a full array of monthly, two-week and daily disposable contact lenses, all featuring advanced materials and optics for the public.
The Canadian Business Journal recently spoke with Jerry Warner, Executive Vice President, Americas and Global Commercial Functions, and Alexandra Donkin, Country Manager, Canada, about CooperVision’s position as a global leader in the contact lens industry. Warner and the executive team have been pleased with CooperVision’s overall global performance in 2019 and have set out a number of strategic goals for the coming year.
“It was another strong year for the company and particularly for our Canadian business,” begins Warner. “When I speak about the company I do it in three ways: CooperVision in North America; CooperVision as a global entity; and CooperSurgical, which is our sister company in Cooper-Companies. In general, we’ve had a very positive year right across the board.”
“Our fiscal year ended on October 31, and I can tell you that CooperVision Canada did have a very successful year in 2019,” adds Donkin.
Manufacturing is conducted in different facilities around the globe including in Costa Rica, Puerto Rico, Budapest, Hungary, the United Kingdom and New York State.
The company’s perennial successes can be directly attributable to many thousands of loyal customers, who have come to recognize CooperVision’s commitment to outstanding service and premium-quality products including: MyDay® daily disposables; clariti® 1 day; and Biofinity® monthly lenses, including Biofinity Energys®, the first contact lens designed specifically for today’s digital lifestyles.
“With each passing month and year, we are assuming a greater leadership position and that really is the focus of our company as we roll into 2020,” continues Warner.
CooperVision’s success in North America and throughout the world can be attributed to several primary factors. According to Warner, the one-day contact lens fitting in North America had been lagging a bit behind the rest of the world. However, that changed about five years ago, and it changed in earnest for CooperVision about four years ago with the acquisition of a company brought the clariti® 1 day silicone hydrogel family into its portfolio. Combine that with CooperVision’s own MyDay®, and it creates an unbeatable one-two punch within the industry.
“We made an aggressive commitment at the sales and marketing level to really work with doctors as they were changing their fitting behaviours, moving from monthly or two-week contact lenses to one-day contact lenses,” explains Warner.
The business decisions molded over the past few years have managed to fuel the company’s impressive growth and it’s expected to continue that way in the foreseeable future.
Enterprises from all industries face certain challenges or obstacles, but Warner takes the positive approach and instead views everything as an opportunity waiting to be conquered. If you take the total number of vision-corrected people in North America and compare that with the number of contact lens wearers, it’s a relatively small number – about 20% according to the latest statistics.
“The opportunity for us is to continue to work with customers and patients to put contact lenses in front of them as an option for vision correction,” says Warner. “The reality is that most patients are not going to choose a contact lens only. Most contact lens wearers also use spectacles.”
About two years ago CooperVision Canada launched a product called MiSight® 1 day with an indication to slow the progression of myopia in paediatric patients. Just recently the U.S. market received FDA approval, making MiSight® 1 day the first soft contact lens approved for the purpose of slowing the progression of myopia.
“In my view this is a really transformative opportunity for the industry, and certainly for CooperVision, in that we’ll now be able to work with doctors, parents and children not just to correct vision but to slow the progression of myopia,” notes Warner.
The Canadian operations are very similarly aligned with other jurisdictions in terms of overall corporate strategy. The idea of expanding the company’s presence in the one-day segment of the market has definitely become a main driving point for CooperVision.
“In doing so, we’re not only going to be potentially putting the children in a position to have healthier eyes but also to have better outcomes with a lower vision correction required rather than higher vision correction required,” notes Warner.
The public has an exponentially large number of choices when it comes to purchasing contact lenses and because of that CooperVision recognizes the importance of staying out in front of the competition. Doctors – and by extension their patients – have many choices regarding what contact lenses to prescribe or wear. As an extended commitment to individuality, CooperVision offers the broadest range of the contact lenses available. In fact, some of CooperVision lenses are actually made to order; typically consisting of contact lenses for the more challenging types of vision correction.
“We have some of the best technology in the industry,” states Warner. “But we have a commitment that is different from our competitors. With our unmatched portfolio of lenses, we aim to ensure we have a suitable product available for virtually any eye.”
CooperVision provides a significant portion of revenue and operating income for CooperCompanies, the parent and publicly traded company based out of San Ramon, California. CooperVision is one of two divisions, with CooperSurgical being the other. Manufacturing high-quality and great technology contact lenses is crucial to earn the trust of doctors and patients alike in order to guarantee success as an organization.
The industry and its technology constantly evolve and because of that, Warner believes there will be further significant advancements in contact lenses, including a greater comfort level and the ability to deal with more specialty vision correction needs such as astigmatism and presbyopia.
“I also believe with the launch of MiSight® 1 day that this is just the beginning of the journey in terms of technology coming into the market to address myopia progression,” he says. “CooperVision is committed to this, as is the entire industry, so I can imagine in five to 10 years we’ll be celebrating just how much progress has been made in slowing the progression of myopia in children.”
A question that often pops up with members of the public is whether there is an ideal age when children become potential customers for contact lenses. In general, most doctors tend to introduce contact lenses to children in their early teens, but a product such as MiSight® 1 day is actually indicated for children as young as eight years old. There are doctors that put children into contact lenses at eight years of age, but the overwhelmingly reluctance to go that young has not been due to safety – because contact lenses are very safe – but rather because of the amount of vision-correction change constantly evolving with a child. The willingness of parents to financially commit has played a determining role. However, this is where MiSight® 1 day should change that paradigm.
Improvements with design and material efficiencies mean that contact lens technologies are constantly changing, with several exciting opportunities opening up.
“clariti® 1 day is a family of daily disposable, silicone hydrogel lenses. Historically, these high-oxygen lenses, particularly the one-days, were priced in such a way that it could really be a barrier for most patients,” notes Donkin. “CooperVision utilizes advanced manufacturing technology that allows us to offer them at a similar price to the older low-oxygen one-day lenses.”
Myopia management is the therapeutic treatment of the progression of myopia in younger children. In general, young people’s eyes will continue to grow and accelerate through a variety of vision correction in the earliest ages. Myopia occurs when the eyeball is too long, relative to the focusing power of the cornea and lens of the eye.
Studies indicate the presence of myopia is expected to double worldwide from 2010 to 2050 and Canada is not immune from those figures. The myopia issue tends to be more dominant in the Asian population but it is estimated that 30% of the Canadian population is myopic. It’s also appearing at earlier ages and it’s progressing faster than previous generations.
“If we look at kids in Grade 1, myopia has increased in both prevalence and severity by the time they get to Grade 8. One of the biggest concerns is that almost a third of those cases are going undiagnosed and uncorrected,” notes Donkin.
Over the last few decades professionals within the industry have noticed that children’s progression of myopia is doing two things: it’s accelerating at a faster rate and it’s progressing to a worsening state. A child who might start at -1.00 in terms of needing distance correction could find themselves in a short time needing to change their prescription to -2.00 or -3.00 and in some instances may be moving up to -7.00 to -9.00.
Two main factors occur with myopia acceleration. Firstly, it’s actually increasing the axial length of the eye itself, which down the road research has indicated could create ocular health problems as a person gets older, including detached retinas. The other issue is that the more one’s vision is compromised the less free a lifestyle they can enjoy.
“What I call the secondary benefit of myopia management is the ability to help people be in a natural state of vision. They are certainly going to need vision correction in most instances, but the severity of that vision correction isn’t going to be what it once was. This is where we are, on the early edge of making meaningful difference in battling against myopia progression,” says Warner.
In this digital age there is no disputing that the various forms of electronics communications devices are having an adverse effect on people’s eyes.
“Particularly when you think about children there is a strong argument – and I support it – that one of the things that would be incredibly helpful would be to send your child outside. When we grew up, we spent a whole lot of time outside and really used our eyes differently than nowadays when kids are spending so much time sitting in front of a number of different digital devices,” Warner says.
There is an identifiably substantive market opportunity to combat myopia. It’s estimated there are hundreds of millions of children worldwide that are eligible for myopia management and technology will play a leading role in combating the problem.
“CooperVision’s commitment starts at the moment with MiSight® 1 day, which is just the beginning of the journey for us. We’ll be spending significant money on research and development and continuing to look for solutions that not only do what MiSight® 1 day can do, but do it better,” affirms Warner.
At CooperVision the corporate mantra is that sustainability is a must, and that includes both products made for public consumption and the manufacturing and distribution facilities themselves, according to Warner.
“We view our sustainability obligation as two-fold: it’s through the products that we make and also through the sites that we operate in, whether it’s a commercial or manufacturing site. We put significant emphasis on being friendly to the community and being sustainable,” he says.
A finished project at the manufacturing facility in Puerto Rico has introduced a water-reuse system that saves 63 million litres of water every year. There are three facilities in the state of New York: one is for distribution, another handles manufacturing and the third is a commercial office. All three of those CooperVision locations are fueled by using 100% renewable electricity derived from wind power. The distribution facility is now zero waste to landfill with 90% of the materials recycled and 10% converted to energy. Such impressive statistics confirm the company’s commitment to being an industry leader as a socially responsible organization.
CooperVision’s newest 100,000-square-foot contact lens manufacturing facility in Costa Rica has earned the LEED Silver certification for its environmentally conscious design and operation, hitting many areas of conservation around energy and water conservation and waste reduction.
“We recycle 95% of the materials used in our production process. We repurpose 99% of the plastics that we use into other products and then we look at things like cardboard containers, which we attempt to use up to 10 times before putting them into recycling,” adds Warner. “Not only is it our obligation to ensure that we are protecting the communities in which we operate, but it’s also important that our products have a sustainable footprint as well.”
Both Warner and Donkin point to the tremendous efforts and results CooperVision has made towards sustainability. In Canada, many people are concerned about the environment and the footprint left by industry. The company has made great strides pertaining to the sustainable manufacturing and distribution of contact lenses. CooperVision’s efforts have certainly been noticed, with the company having been the recipient of a number of environmental awards.
“More and more of our customers are expressing a specific interest in working with us as partners with them in their efforts towards sustainability. That is a reflection of CooperVision as an organization,” notes Donkin.
Success within any company requires a commitment to excellence from top to bottom and while seeking out the brightest and the best to join the team environment is imperative, there is also a need to ensure it’s the proper fit for both the company and the individual.
“We have a strong culture in CooperVision and operate under four main values: partner, inventive, dedicated and friendly,” says Warner. “The example I use is we’re the smallest big company you’re ever going to find. It has a community and family feel to it. It’s also incredibly entrepreneurial. I’m in my eighth year now and time has really flown. I’ve enjoyed it very much and a lot of that has to do with the people I work with.”
With about two-thirds of the company’s entire sales being generated from outside the United States, CooperVision has proven its desire to be an outward looking organization in terms of supplying CooperVision’s products and services. Warner and Donkin both see excellent opportunities being generated.
“Like all companies we have growth targets. What’s important about those growth targets is that they deliver sustainable business for us and by that, I mean it’s the output of the commitment and relationships we develop with our customers. There are always going to be one-time transactions – it’s the nature of any business, but the reason we’re in such a sustained period of growth is that we continue to cultivate long-term relationships with our customers,” says Warner.
At CooperVision there is also a commitment to assisting with community-based endeavours whenever possible. One such organization that is near and dear to the hearts of the staff is a not-for-profit, global fundraising initiative called Optometry Giving Sight. The organization specifically targets the prevention of blindness and impaired vision due to uncorrected refractive error.
“Globally, CooperVision is a platinum sponsor of Optometry Giving Sight. In Canada we’ve worked very hard over the past couple of years to increase our efforts for this great charity. We have a lot of fun in the office to raise funds. It’s also great for team building,” Donkin proudly says. “I am so fortunate to work with an incredible team and when I say that I really mean every one of them. It’s a nice culture to work within and offers a great sense of community and giving back.”
Eyes to the Future
Over the next few years Donkin expects CooperVision will continue to expand its business presence as a dominant player in the one-day arena in Canada and throughout the world. The overall strategy of maintaining a balanced portfolio – that is, growing its one-day lens segment while maintaining its monthly lens business – is at the heart of where CooperVision executives want to be.
MiSight® 1 day just recently receiving FDA approval in the United States and its availability for two years in Canada puts CooperVision well ahead of the competition as the only commercial lens that Health Canada has authorized for sale to the public for myopia control. It’s a product that has proven to slow down the progression of myopia in children up to 59%. It’s an exciting time for the eye care professional because for the first time they can proactively manage the condition of myopia rather than just correcting it.
“We have the right product portfolio to be dominant in high-oxygen one-day lenses,” says Donkin. “I really believe that’s where the market is going. I’d also like, and anticipate, that we will be the leader in myopia management and work with our industry partners to address this global epidemic.”
“Two to three years from now I fully expect we’ll have new customers and built long-term relationships but I’ll also be really happy if the efforts we’ve made in the last five years has us continuing to work with our current customers, helping them service their patients and grow their business,” concludes Warner. “Three years from now, I anticipate we’ll be looking at hundreds of thousands of children wearing MiSight® 1 day and seeing the benefits of slowing the progression of myopia.”