Are you ready for the Readi Pak? No, not the Ready Pac salads. And not Redi-Pak defibrillator electrodes, either. The diabetes Readi Pak is a new "Go-Bag" that features a large main compartment with a removable diabetes accessory case that lives in its own hidden pocket.
This isn't the latest thing from any of the dozens of existing diabetes case and bag makers. No, this new bag is the brain child of Sanofi, the giant French pharmaceutical company — manufacturer of the insulins Lantus and Apidra.
Yes, Sanofi is moving beyond just meds and going into the accessory market, too.
So Sanofi has its hands in many pieces of the pie. But first let's talk about the case they've created...
Company officials say the firm wants to "move beyond the molecule" and supply people with diabetes everything we could need or want. Not just medications, but carrying cases and information, too -- because in this 21st century world of empowered patients, they point out things like social media, smartphones and apps are just as much a part of a person's diabetes management as the traditional items.
Show Me the Bag!
The Readi Pak has a large (8 x 10 x 4 inch) insulated main compartment, two mesh side pouches for water bottles and the like, and a zippered back compartment that contains a classic diabetes organizer bag. It definitely doesn't look medical. In fact, it looks rather school-lunch bag to me.
It's solidly made, featuring a tough canvas-like cloth on the outside, double-stitched seams, a carry handle, and a removable shoulder strap. The loops for the detachable shoulder strap are thick plastic D-rings of the type camera bags use, and they are anchored in place with thick loops of webbing "X" sewn for added strength. The strap itself is adjustable, decently wide, and sports a wide shoulder pad at the top, the underside of which is non-slip foam lining so the bag stays put on your shoulder.
The side pockets have stretchy rope closures with slider locks so you can batten down the hatches on your water bottles and not worry about them falling out. The velcro on the main lid is a generous one inch tall by four-and-a-quarter wide. It opens easily when you want it to, but won't pop open and spill the bag's contents if you throw it carelessly into the back of your car when you're on the go. The inside of the main compartment is spill-resistant white vinyl like a diaper bag.
The smaller diabetes organizer insert, at 7 x 8 x 1.5 inches, is lined with a black rubberized material and features three elastic bands sewn to create seven loops to hold pens, vials, syringes, canisters of strips, or lancing devices. It also has a meter-sized mesh pocket, a larger zippered mesh pocket that's held in place by velcro and can be removed, and yet another large mesh pocket sewn on the to the inside of the lid, along with an adjustable velcro strip for God-only-knows-what. On the outside of the small organizer is a clear window for a medic alert card. Of course, the designers are trying to create something that will work for every PWD—which isn't possible given that our gear varies so much from person to person—but you could definitely get creative in how you set this puppy up. That said, the organizer struck me as better suited to folks on pens or syringes than those of us on pumps.
The organizer has an exterior pocket for a five-inch gel cold-pack of the variety you can freeze and re-freeze. Based on my experience with similar products, I'd say it would work fine to keep your meds cool for a day trip, but will be worthless for distant travel. By the way, I'm not wild about the idea of chilling meters and strips along with meds; many brands of strips get funky when they get cold. I should also point out that the gel pack only keeps the diabetes insert cool. If you had a sandwich with mayo in the main compartment on a hot day, you'd need a separate ice pack in there with it.
Would I use a Readi Pak for my Go-Bag? No. I find that deep single-compartment bags don't work well for me. But every PWD's needs and tastes are different, and if this shape works for you, you'll find the Readi Pak a well-constructed option.
They come in royal blue, pink swirl, aqua swirl, and camoflage. The label sewn into the seam of the main compartment says the actual bag was produced in China despite being designed and manufactured by Sanofi USA, and company officials say that overseas production helped keep the Readi Pak at an "affordable price." All are priced at $29.95, which some may dispute is affordable and is actually too high a cost for what's basically a glorified lunch bag. Again, opinions may vary.
Why Bags at All?
But the bigger question, to us, is why the move beyond meds and into bags, of all things?
We reached out to Sanofi for more details. In an emailed response, Sanofi U.S. communication manager Lindsey Schedler responded with what sounded more like ad-copy than a real-life answer to a simple question.
"Sanofi recognized that many people living with diabetes manage their diabetes 'on-the-go,' and developed the Readi Pak, a convenient and discreet way for people living with diabetes to carry around their diabetes supplies," her email stated.
I'm trying to think if I know any people living with diabetes who don't manage their diabetes 'on-the-go.'
But OK, I'll look past that for the moment.. and focus on Sanofi's working with the Diabetes Community to get this product out, like what the company's done in the past when creating meters and apps similar to the ones others have already created.
Tapping the Experts?
For the iBG Star, Sanofi partnered with AgraMatrix. For their Go-Meals app they partnered with CalorieKing. So, for the Readi Pak, did Sanofi partner with any of the great existing bag firms like aDorn designs, Medicool, myabetic, StickMe Designs, Sugar Medical Supply, or Skidaddle?
The answer: No.
Schedler tells us Sanofi went it alone on this gig, designing it in-house. But the company "received valuable market research from an external partner on the usability and design." The design process took about six months, and Schedler said they shared early prototypes with a small group of students, mostly type 1s, and also some members of the Diabetes Online Community (DOC) to get feedback. Hmmm, first we'd heard of that.
But they didn't work with other bag-designers who'd come before them, apparently.
How does Sanofi feel about, on one hand wanting to help PWDs, and getting our help for free; while on the other hand competing with PWD-founded bag firms? The official line from Schedler: "We cannot comment on other bags and diabetes management tools."
Which, of course, made me wonder if the other guys might want to comment on waking up to find an 800-pound gorilla sitting in their front yard. I reached out to all of the bag companies I could find, and the silence was deafening. Most did not respond at all.
Skidaddle responded with "no comment," and only Kyrra Richards, founder of Myabetic replied with a quote, saying, "It is great to see Sanofi addressing the lifestyle needs of their diabetes customers. Members of the community are always looking for ways to ease the daily diabetic regimen, and these Readi Paks provide another great option." And she added, "We look forward to seeing more and more device and pharmaceutical companies addressing the lifestyle of their patients by providing ways to personalize their medical routines with colorful options." Of course, don't forget myabetic has successfully partnered with another player in the market, Tandem, for t:slim cases—so her perspective can expected to be different from the rest of the pack.
Sanofi's Bag Lady
Schedler declined to tell us who designed the bag, only saying, "Sanofi is the primary designer of the Readi Pak."
But I later learned that the bag was designed by Linda Szych, a project supervisor on the Marketing Operations team at Sanofi U.S. I discovered this by finding out on my own that another company spokeswoman, Laura Kolodjeski, interviewed Szych on one of Sanofi's own websites, the Discuss Diabetes blog.
WTF, Sanofi? Why not just tell us that and give credit to the person who deserves it?
Szych told her own people that she designed the two-part bag so "it can hold your lunch or a snack" and have "a separate compartment for any medications and supplies." She also envisioned that the smaller diabetes organizer bag could be put in a fridge once you get to where you're going—a rather odd thought from someone who works at an insulin company, given that modern insulins can be safely kept at room temperature.
To the best I can tell from reading the interview, Szych does not have diabetes. She said she was surprised when she learned how much crap we have to carry.
The interview reveals that the Readi Pak began its life as a promo-piece that was intended as a giveaway "starter kit" for children recently diagnosed with type 1, and that it would have held recipe cards, meal planners, and informational DVDs (and no doubt coupons for Sanofi insulins). But Szych says that as the project developed she decided that an insulated lunch box would be more useful. She said a driving design element was to create a bag that didn't make kids with diabetes "stand out."
Any more Sanofi bags in the pipeline? Nope, Schedler says: "At this time, this is a pilot program and we do not have any other bags in development or plans to expand."
But bag designer Szych seems to be marching to a different drummer, suggesting in her Sanofi-published interview online that the company does have plans to expand its bag offerings. She's quoted as saying, "We want feedback on the bag. Is it too big for you? Is there something that you would do differently with it? We produced a limited number of bags as a sort of pilot program, so we can incorporate feedback and potentially create bags with different designs in the future."
So really, who knows what the future holds for Sanofi's line of diabetes bags.
Beyond Bags and Everywhere
But it's more than just bags, a food app, and a meter. Actually, Sanofi is moving into the diabetes space in a big, big way.
Amy reported on the company's desire to be a "360-degree partner" with PWDs a while back. Sometimes they do work with others, as they did in their partnership with TCOYD and in their joint venture with AgaMatrix. But more often, they seem intent on creating a branded alternate universe. At this time, Sanofi USA has at least 10 separate diabetes-related websites. Among them: a dLife-like site called The Dx; a TuDiabetes-like community called Striving Forward; and an alternative to the Mine's own innovation design challenge called the Triple-D challenge that debuted in 2011. Sanofi is tweeting, Facebooking, and blogging at breathtaking speed, and they've even created their own alternative to the DOC at Discuss Diabetes.
As with the Readi Pak bag, they seem to be trying to reinvent the wheel on many fronts -- whereas we'd love to see them focus more on partnerships with existing organizations and initiatives coming from the patient community.
We may just have to see what's on the horizon, and what Sanofi wants to put into its proverbial diabetes bag next.