Friday, July 15, 2011

Swedish pharmacies

For almost four decades, Sweden was one of few countries in the world with a government run monopoly on pharmacies, banning private retail of pharmaceuticals. When a new centre-right government was elected in 2006, one of its promises was to abolish the monopoly and sell of most of the state-owned pharmacies. This plan was put into action in 2009. Private competition was allowed in late 2009, and a majority of the government-owned pharmacies were rebranded during January and February 2010 as they were transferred to new owners.

The newly privatized pharmacies have been grouped into five new chains. There were also a few actors that have entered the market without acquiring any state-owned pharmacies, but many of them quickly realized that the prospects of reaching profitability were bleak.

Before privatization, all 945 pharmacies in the country were operated by one state-owned company, Apoteket AB. 615 of them were sold, while 330 stayed with Apoteket AB. "Apoteket" means "The Pharmacy", and Apoteket AB holds a trademark on the definite form of the Swedish word for pharmacy ("Apoteket"), while the indefinite form ("apotek") can be used by anyone. Hence, almost all new entrants have included the word "apotek" in their name. They have also gone for remarkably similar visual identies, with most of them using green as signature colour and some variation of a green cross as their symbol.

The old pharmacy logo from the monopoly era.

The logo above was used by all pharmacies before deregulation. It contained a very stylized version of the bowl of Hygieia, a snake coiling around a bowl. Apoteket claims this symbol was first introduced in 1972, although it probably went through some minor changes after that. The typeface used above is called Formata.

All the new identites after the jump.

Apoteket AB will remain under government ownership with 330 pharmacies. Preparing for the overhauled market, the company unveiled a new corporate identity in June 2008, well ahead of the upcoming changes. The classic symbol remained, but was revitalized and simplified.

The Gothenburg agency Happy Forsman & Bodenfors was behind the new identity. Their case study talks about "a visual profile that spoke more of good health than of sickness". In addition the logo, their work included new typefaces, graphic devices like icons and packaging for new private label products.

Happy case study

Apotek Hjärtat took over 208 of the state-owned pharmacies, immediately making them the largest private pharmacy chain, a position that has been enforced by an aggressive strategy of expansions and acquistions, backed by a private equity firm called Altor. The name translates roughly as "The Heart Pharmacy".

The corporate identity was created by a design agency called BVD (previously known as Blidholm Vagnemark Design). The "traffic-sign green" colour was inspired by European pharmacies. To distinguish the heart symbol from other hearts, a small opening was made at the centre, creating "a feeling of openness and welcome".

BVD (archive)
BVD press release (Swedish) (archive)

Kronans Droghandel ("The Crown's Drug Trade") has its roots in a pharmaceutical distributor founded in 1907. These operations continued after the pharmacies were nationalized. It eventually became a part of the Finnish health care company Oriola. When the pharmacies were being privatized, Oriola-KD formed a company where the Swedish Cooperative Union owned a minority share, which bought 171 pharmacies.

The identity of Kronans Droghandel really stands out among its competitors. Pharmacies belonging to Kronans Droghandel use bright colours with interiors decorated in walnut brown, mandarin orange and white, contrasting the competitors white and sterile environments where green is the primary colour. Kronans Droghandel is the only new entrant with some sort of tradition and legacy within Sweden, and that was reflected in the visual identity and store design.

Kronans Droghandel press release (archive)

Medstop, a company backed the private equity firm Segulah, bought 62 formerly state-owned pharmacies. Its expansion plans a comparatively modest.

Soon after launch, Medstop added the word "Apotek" to their logo.

24 pharmacies located near hospitals were bought by "Vårdapoteket i Norden". The company is owned by two investing firms, Investor och Priveq Investment. The name means "the health care pharmacy", and the company aims to continue operate pharmacies near hospitals.

A new visual identity for Vårdapoteket is currently being developed by Stockholm Design Lab. They claim it will launch in the summer/fall, marking the first rebrand since the market was deregulated.

150 pharmacies were transferred to a new government-owned company called Apoteksgruppen, who are in the process of selling the pharmacies to independent small businesses. Once a pharmacy has been sold, Apoteksgruppen provides support and marketing to the independent pharmacy.

The identity for Apoteksgruppen was created by a design agency called Grafisk idé. It contains a decorative pattern which can be used in many ways and is intended to symbolize the chain itself. The image shown above is just one of many examples of how the logotype and pattern can interact.

Press release (archive)

The department store chain Åhléns was one of the first to take advantage of the lifted monopoly, opening its first pharmacy on December 10, 2009, quickly opening five other pharmacies around country. The chain was called "Åhléns Apotek" and used a modified green version of Åhléns main logo. However, a year later Åhléns decided to give up their pharmacy chain, selling the flagship store in Stockholm to Apoteket Hjärtat, and closing down all the others.

Norway's leading pharmacy Apotek1 opened it first pharmacy in Sweden in February 2010, but after only a few months, in May, they announced that they were selling all their pharmacies to Apotek Hjärtat. At that point they had opened 23 pharmacies.

The visual identity was borrowed from the Norwegian chain.

DocMorris Apotek is the only remaining new entrant that didn't buy any of the state-owned pharmacies. Since opening its first pharmacy in February 2010, it has now expanded to 64 locations. It is owned by the German pharmaceutical company Celesio, which also operates a DocMorris chain in Germany.

The corporate identity was borrowed from the German counterpart. The logo seen above is the one which was used when the first pharmacies opened. It has since been given a slight update.

Cura apoteket is a chain operated by Sweden's leading grocery retailer Ica. Most of its pharmacies are located near Ica Maxi hypermarkets.

Finally, there's a symbol that can be used by all pharmacies to show that they have license from the Medical Products Agency. It was unveiled on October 19, 2009 by the minister for health and social affairs, Göran Hägglund and was created by Granath Euro RSCG.

Granath Euro RSCG (archive)
Läkemedelsverket (archive)
Guidelines (archive)


  1. think its a pretty good idea not that there aren't other sites out there that already do something similar but I think it might catch on here pretty well.


    From Tunisia with love !

  3. Thanks, it was really useful.