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Bernie Desgagnes: Innovating for a Smoother and Speedy Regulatory Process

Bernie Desgagnés | President
Bernie Desgagnés | President

Sustainability is driving the current global demand along with an increased preference for organic products in the industry. The movement is gaining momentum to aid a healthy lifestyle and derive maximum benefits from nature-based commodities. To enrich this organic food and its variable commercial products, they are loaded with additional and required nutrients; these nutraceutical products of functional food and dietary supplements are expected to expand at a CAGR of nine percent by 2030.

To facilitate this rising demand, there is a need to channel deliveries of these products at the right time, passing through all mandatory checks, which will also help the brand to maintain its integrity and commitment promises. To serve this purpose, various leaders are catalyzing alternatives to help nutraceutical brand companies offer timely launch and delivery of their products.

One such leader is Bernie Desgagnes, who crafted ways with his brainchildSource Nutraceuticals Inc. to resolve the regulatory delays and challenges faced by most nutraceutical companies in the Canadian Market.

He believes that quality matters the most, but the processes should be expedited to maintain brand integrity and generating customer satisfaction. This has also been his key to attracting the loyalty of his past clients even today!

Let us dive into the interview highlights below and learn more about what he calls his lightbulb moment!

Bernie, kindly tell us about yourself and your professional journey so far.

I grew up in Rimouski, Quebec, then later northern Manitoba. I was going to work in forestry or a related field, as I am with a lumberjack family background. I took various government jobs before landing a role in workplace safety and health. This was my first introduction to compliance and regulatory affairs, which has continued ever since.

Along with this, I also have a passion for fitness, selling supplements to bodybuilders on the side.

I spent eight years with a natural health products company in Winnipeg as Director of Regulatory affairs. When the company moved to Toronto, I decided to make my lightbulb moment—and business idea—a reality.

Hence, Source Nutraceutical Inc. was incorporated in 2004.

What has been your source of inspiration behind the foundation of Source Nutraceutical, Inc? Please brief us about your company. 

I’ve seen over the years, way back when, that trying to deal with the government directly for a foreign company is very challenging and time-consuming. The feedback I was getting from potential clients made me think – how do we address speed to market when the clients are introducing new products to the marketplace?

They had to wait months or years to go through regulatory vetting by Health Canada directly and this was the biggest challenge coming into the market. Working directly with a company in Canada, I believe SNI and the team could be your liaison for your Health Canada needs, label registration and packaging compliance, that kind of stuff – seemed like to answer for expedited speed to market.

Things are changing so fast, and there’s a lot of innovation, so waiting months to get approval is what may set you back, and may take away the buzz behind the product when you’re trying to be on trend. Source Nutraceuticals Inc helps you get to the market quicker so there are no missed opportunities.

From my perspective, when you’re listening to the client and their biggest hurdles, they overwhelmingly said IT TAKES TOO LONG. It’s too complex and slows down your innovation drastically. Working with someone with close contacts and an understanding of the marketplace will help you decrease the time to market.

It’s all about listening to the customers’ hurdles, and troubles, and how we can solve your problems. We’re known as problem-solvers to help our clients get to the market compliantly, efficiently, and fast.

Most of the market is skeptical about nutraceutical products. In what ways are you, as a leader, addressing these concerns of the consumers and taking the leap in the nutraceutical industry?

Health Canada has one of the most stringent regulations for nutraceuticals and is known as an example around the world of how new regulations were implemented.

I know the consumer today is savvier than ten or twenty years ago. It’s a busy marketplace, competitive, the consumer doesn’t want to be confused, and confusion on the shelf has been a problem in the last decade.

Now they’re more demanding of substantiation. They read labels; they want to understand what the product is doing. Quality of ingredients is important to them too, and Quality Assurance in the regulations is more stringent now, in that products need to be tested to support the ingredients.

A lot of products make claims without proper substantiation, and with more savvy consumers, it forces brands/manufacturers to comply with that demand. This is why I and my team at the company have expanded into clinical trials to support the nutraceutical industry in making claims with strong scientific support. This increases consumer confidence in the nutraceutical world.

I think it all boils down to the CONFIDENCE they have in what they’re buying.

With your prior experience of working with the government, what do you think are the necessary changes that the private sector should adopt to deliver healthy and safe products?

It is all about providing the consumer with high-quality products, which contributes greatly to brand integrity – brand integrity will propel you forward. It’s crucial that brands and manufacturers use quality ingredients and processes, and make sure products can do what they say they do.

There’s nothing more destructive than brand integrity falling apart due to a preventable quality or substantiation issue. Brands should strive for a solid portfolio backed with a quality assurance and claims validation program to build that consumer confidence. Your customers will ask questions, and do research, so sooner or later, the truth will come out! A savvy consumer is a good thing.

How has your knowledge about the regulatory sector mechanisms helped Source Nutraceutical, Inc to provide expert solutions to your customers as per Canadian laws?

The regulatory environment is complex. Having a team of highly qualified regulatory specialists in different areas of the regulations, whether it is quality assurance, ingredient sourcing, or understanding the process of simplifying a Product License Application (PLA), is a must to expedite through the system without the government back and forth. This all helps increase speed to market.

As product innovation evolves, so is the regulatory framework. Being knowledgeable of the steps and processes to expedite the compliance process and results is beneficial to our clients. Our team prides itself on being on top of Health Canada’s updates – and at SNI we have 20 years of experience doing just that.

Non-compliance is very costly – do your due diligence upfront with a reliable company you trust. Trusting who you’re working with to guide you in the right direction will make your life much simpler.

Could you share with us any event that has impacted you profoundly in your professional endeavors?

During my travels as I was starting to market the company as a go-to service provider for regulatory needs, I talked to clients and had a lightbulb moment: to develop a turnkey solution to the clients that is not JUST regulatory, but everything that bolts on to it: graphic design, translation, premarket authorization, clinical research. Offering a full suite of services under one roof is incredibly valuable to clients; no one likes to circle around different agencies.

One of my very first clients, Whole Foods Market, did not know the ins and outs of the Canadian regulatory landscape despite having success in the United States. One day, they found themselves in a very challenging situation. I was highly recommended that after several visits from CFIA after threatening to shut them down unless they complied with nutraceutical and food product regulations!

This turnkey, a one-stop-shop offering, was extremely well received because there were so many issues with using several agencies, and they would have been way too complex. Here, we came in as a problem-solver for everything from translation, packaging, advertising in stores and on the website, marketing campaigns, etc. Working with us was very helpful to them. They are still a client today.

What has been your approach to turning challenges in your career into opportunities, that has helped you become a leader in the current nutraceutical market?

The challenge we faced initially was companies not wanting to invest. Trying to make companies understand that it is more cost-effective, and less risky, to do it correctly right out of the gate. And this requires investment in your ingredients, and compliance with different regulations from country to country.

A common misconception was that if you have gone through this in your own country that it is automatically acceptable in another country. The challenge was to educate the client on the do’s and don’ts of entering the Canadian marketplace. Also, consequences of entering without proper due diligence.

Some of these challenges turned into opportunities to help clients do things right and right off the bat. Doing it properly can actually make a product better!

As an experienced leader, what advice would you like to give to aspiring entrepreneurs and enthusiasts who wish to venture into the competitive industry that you are serving?

The market has grown exponentially in the past 10-15 years. It is now competitive, so brands must do it right the first time; because the consequences will surely damage brand integrity. It is costly and can be destructive.

Find yourself a well-established regulatory service provider to do it right from the beginning to avoid brand damage or costly recall. The most successful brands see this as an investment in their businesses.

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