Robert Oringer: The Entrepreneur Who Pioneered Private-Label Diabetes Products

In the 17 years I have known Robert Oringer, I can honestly say that he has a soaring entrepreneurial spirit and a fierce independence – he is a man who is hard to harness. His mind is always ticking, excited by the next innovative idea.

My most recent conversation with him led us to the hot topic of diabetes and education.  Robert is an investor in dLife, which, like Diabetes Health TV, is committed to educating and engaging the diabetes community for better outcomes. We started discussing disease management companies and how they stand to benefit with the advent of web-cams and personal home videoconferencing technology.

If you read our last publication, Amy Tenderich wrote a fabulous article about the poor state of diabetes education and the closing of diabetes education facilities. In the next two or three years, says Robert, one possible solution will be one-on-one coaching videoconferences where people with diabetes can consult online with their diabetes educators without having to physically show up at a treatment center or facility.

Robert’s involvement with dLife is typical of his passion for new companies with great ideas. “There’s something about start ups that I love – something about creating new things that no else one has done. Making a difference means you take risk.”

He has always had an eye for unique new products. When I first met Robert in 1990, he and his business partners had just gotten started in the diabetes industry by accident. Robert was selling a broad range of medical products in Canada, which included lancets by the name of EZ-Ject.  At first he wanted to create name brand recognition for the lancets. However, he quickly realized that the retail chain pharmacies and wholesale distributors were primed for private “store brand” labeling.  This was a time when most people paid cash for their diabetes supplies, so saving up to 30 percent on a store brand was very appealing to both consumers and retailers.

“Initially, we were trying to establish our EZ-Ject brand of lancets with independent pharmacists,” Robert recalls. “It was in 1990 at the National Association of Retail Druggists’ convention that we came to realize that the pharmacists wanted to be able to offer their own brand of diabetes products to their customers. Our first major private-label drug wholesaler was the old Bergen Brunswig company. Our first retailer was Hooks Drug… purchased a long time ago by another chain. By 1993, many wholesalers and retailers had come on board with private-label lancets, alcohol swabs and glucose tablets. In late 1994, we began rolling out private label syringes for all of the same drug wholesalers and retailers.”

To the Next Level

Wal-Mart took private label diabetes products to another level when Frank Seagrave, its former Vice President of Pharmacy, decided the company needed to do more for people with diabetes.  Frank worked closely with Bob Guest from the Arcadia Group to develop a Wal-Mart brand by the name of ReliOn, which included lancets, glucose tabs and syringes at its initial launch.  Shortly after the line’s initial rollout,  Wal-Mart pioneered the first and only private label insulin brand, which is manufactured by Novo Nordisk.  Today, the ReliOn brand at Wal-Mart is celebrating its 10-year anniversary with a cost savings of $100 million for people with diabetes.

I asked Robert what other diabetes new product ideas he has. He chuckled and offered  up a new one that makes perfect sense once you think about it: “tiny tissues.” Robert has two children with type 1 diabetes. Every day they need to cut tissues in tiny pieces to wipe blood off their fingers after lancing. Some people either lick their fingers or wipe them on their pants. Robert’s “tiny tissues” are a simple concept that would solve the problem of where to wipe your blood—with a clean and convenient solution.

Robert did not start out with a focus on diabetes or diabetes-oriented businesses. But after seeing his children diagnosed with diabetes, he committed himself to make the focus of his investments diabetes-related.  As a result, companies like Can-Am Care, Access Product Marketing, Inverness Medical, Agamatrix and dLife have all benefited from his vision and continued support in providing branded and private label diabetes products and education.

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