As the saying goes, “Necessity is the mother of invention,” and the aphorism couldn’t be more well suited to describe the history of Duchesnay and its well-known products PregVit and PregVit Folic 5 — the only kosher certified prenatal multivitamins in Canada.
In the 1980s, a member of Quebec based entrepreneur Louis Boivin’s family was experiencing a difficult pregnancy. Her doctor prescribed her some medication, but her pharmacist refused to release it to her, fearing that it would be dangerous for her unborn baby because he had seen no scientific data describing the safety of the medication on pregnant women. At the time, Mr. Boivin owned a pharmaceutical distribution company but was surprised by the inability of the physician and pharmacist to agree. He also saw a group of vulnerable people whose needs were not being met, namely, pregnant women. At that moment, Mr. Boivin decided to change the company’s mission – now Duchesnay – to be the first pharmaceutical company to dedicate itself exclusively to pregnant woman. Years later, women around the world are glad they did.
Duchesnay has a family of prenatal vitamins and medications intended to be safely used during pregnancy. PregVit and PregVit Folic 5 are prescription prenatal/postpartum vitamin-mineral supplements specially formulated for use in women prior to conception, throughout pregnancy and during the postpartum/breastfeeding period. It was developed to optimize the absorption of essentially needed nutrients during pregnancy and breastfeeding, for example iron, calcium and folic acid. Duchesnay also made sure to develop PregVit with the needs of pregnant women in mind namely, small so it is easy to swallow, it doesn’t have an unpleasant odour that exacerbates nausea symptoms and avoids unpleasant side effects that pregnant women often experience with other vitamins such as constipation.
From its inception, PregVit enjoyed widespread adoption by consumers, until it hit an obstacle of sorts. Carole Boyer, Vice-President of Corporate Affairs and Administration at Duchesnay explains, “Every week, we were getting phone calls from consumers asking if PregVit was kosher. Women would say ‘I am here with my rabbi, and I want to know if I can take PregVit.’ For us at Duchesnay, we knew that this was something we needed to do. Our mandate is to make sure every woman has access to safe medications and we didn’t want someone’s religious beliefs or dietary habits to act as an impediment.” Necessity reared its head again and with the help of COR — the Kashruth Council of Canada, Duchesnay answered the call again by having PregVit and PregVit Folic 5 go kosher.
Ms. Boyer admits that the process was not an easy one. “PregVit has 27 active and inactive ingredients. We had to revisit every single one to see if it was kosher. We needed to change certain things. We had at the time meat by-products from gelatin and we had to change that. We had to make sure PregVit and PregVit Folic 5 didn’t contain any animal by-products at all. We needed to make sure that our manufacturing, packaging and handling processes met the highest kosher standards. It was a very involved process but COR was there to guide us through it, every step of the way. It was definitely worth it because now we don’t get any phone calls anymore from kosher consumers because we are kosher — the only kosher pregnancy vitamins in Canada.” Also worth mentioning, both PregVit and PregVit Folic 5 are gluten, lactose and tartrazine free.
PregVit’s kosher status has also helped Duchesnay with non Jewish consumers as well. Ms. Boyer relates, “I have heard many of our consumers say ‘I am not Jewish, but if it kosher, I know it was produced under very strict rules and higher scrutiny. Someone has verified every ingredient, how it is handled and packaged and every step is scrutinized.’ Kosher gives many consumers a higher sense of security in the product. If there are two products sitting side by side, one that is kosher and one that isn’t, they pick the kosher one.”
Duchesnay has kind words to say about their partnership with COR. “Duchesnay’s relationship with COR is fantastic. COR is extremely open minded, knowledgeable and a pleasure to work with. They are strict, but that is what I wanted, because I know what their standards are, and that is what kosher consumers expect.” Ms. Boyer added, “I am the biggest ambassador of COR.”
Ms. Boyer wanted to impart one final message on behalf of Duchesnay, “I just want to say that we are very proud of our kosher vitamins. I would encourage any company, if they have a product that can be made kosher, they should call COR and look into it. It’s worth it.”