Bernie Desgagnés paves the way for Canadian and international nutraceutical manufacturers and Brand owners
If you want to get under Bernie Desgagnés’s skin, point him toward a nutraceutical product making a false claim or misleading consumers about the ingredients in the bottle.
“Just recently, we were approached by a client who had concerns about a competitor’s label,” says Desgagnés, President and CEO of Winnipeg-based Source Nutraceutical, Inc. (SNI). “It turns out the product had 400% more sugar and 50% more sodium than what was listed on the label. That is extremely dangerous for type 2 diabetics and people on low-sodium diets.”
Careless labeling indiscretions like this can lead to fines, product recalls, and orders to stop selling—very expensive outcomes to go along with potentially irreparable damage to a company’s brand and reputation.
Desgagnés and his teams in Manitoba and Ontario are in the business of helping nutraceutical companies reduce their risks in the market, make appropriate and accurate claims, comply with Health Canada regulations, and enter the market with confidence.
“Health Canada has a very rigorous structure and very stringent regulations. For the health and safety of the consumer, this is a good thing, but the process to get onto a shelf with legitimate health claims can be complicated,” says Desgagnés, originally from Rimouski, Quebec. “Our job is to help clients navigate the complexities. We work with Canadian companies, but a real focus for us is helping American, and other international clients understand the Canadian regulatory environment and enter the market as seamlessly as possible.”
SNI, incorporated in 2004, offers its clients turnkey solutions for taking their products from concept to consumer. This includes consultation on regulatory affairs, health claim compliance, product labeling, and more. The company includes an in-house graphic design department that produces bilingual (English and French) labeling, positioning product claims, and listing ingredients according to regulations. They also design and print compliant point-of-purchase displays and marketing materials when products are ready to enter the market.
To further support its clients, SNI has recently started to provide clinical trial services. In 2021, the company acquired a new space and designed a state-of-the-art clinic that meets the new health and safety requirements to operate under pandemic conditions. SNI just completed a clinical trial for a client looking to enter the market with a nutraceutical to help prevent the onset of type 2 diabetes. And now, Desgagnés is looking to expand SNI’s clinical trial services to include mobile operations to reach rural areas.
“The key for us is to be nimble. We are working with clients to customize what we can offer by way of clinical research and other regulatory support,” he says. “As the public becomes increasingly knowledgeable and enthusiastic about nutraceuticals, facilitating high-quality research in support of Health Canada applications is becoming more important. Consumers are looking to purchase effective products that deliver what they promise from companies with integrity. Our job is to protect the brand, help the brand owners differentiate their products in an increasingly competitive market, and make sure all their health claims are properly validated so the consumer can buy with confidence.”
There probably aren’t a lot of young kids and teens who say: “When growing up, I want to be a regulatory affairs consultant in the nutraceutical industry.” The field certainly wasn’t on Desgagnés’s radar when he moved from Rimouski to northern Manitoba.
“My brother came to Manitoba to work in the forestry sector,” says Desgagnés, who used to tour with his dad and brothers to compete in lumberjack competitions. “I followed him, mostly to learn English.”
He was only 18 at the time, and there were no jobs in forestry or mining—his preferred sectors. So, the young man took a job with the provincial government as a machine operator and then moved south to Brandon to get his Red Seal and his ticket to work as a heavy-duty diesel mechanic.
After a while, he transferred to another government department—Workplace Safety and Health. This job offered his first exposure to regulatory affairs, compliance, and standards. He was hooked.
“I was fascinated by the relationship between regulation and public well-being. I still am,” he says. “It was always rewarding to work with companies toward compliance.”
In total, Desgagnés spent about 18 years working for the government. On the side, he sold supplements to athletes. Desgagnés himself became a fitness enthusiast, starting in northern Manitoba at the age of 18 when he began pumping iron. He was a competitive bodybuilder for a while and still works out at home (and at the office) several times a week.
While still working for the government, Desgagnés was offered a Director of Regulatory Affairs position with a Winnipeg-based natural health products company. Eight years later, when that company moved to Toronto, Desgagnés decided to stay in Winnipeg, hang a shingle, and provide consulting services from his home office. He hasn’t looked back.
“It was 2004, and Health Canada was starting to implement some new guidelines for the growing nutraceutical market. Until then, the line between foods and drugs was often blurry, and products with ridiculous claims were getting into the market,” says Desgagnés. “When Health Canada tightened the rules, I saw an opportunity to help ethical companies thrive in an environment that had suddenly become more regulated.”
To this day, that is his mission, and with the expanding interest in nutraceuticals, the contribution he makes to the sector is more important than ever before.
“Over the last 20 years, I have seen a growing interest in natural health products. There are many factors,” explains Desgagnés. “People hear about them more and see all sorts of ads on the Internet, that’s for sure. And I think that with the stresses on the health care system, many people—older people in particular—are getting more interested in preventative medicine. They want to avoid illness, and nutraceuticals can play a key role in that. COVID has been an influence, too. People want to be healthy so they can be more resilient to viruses of all types.”
While Desgagnés and his colleagues meet the needs of their commercial clients, they never lose sight of the fact that real people benefit from their work when they do their job right.
“We recognize that responsibility, and we take it seriously. When nutraceutical companies invest in adhering to regulations and only make the claims they can scientifically support, all people benefit. It’s humbling,” says Desgagnés. “We always advise clients to take their time, get it right, enter the market with integrity, and hold their heads high. That’s how brands succeed.”