Success stories

Cobea AG: Heading to Brazil with a smile

Under its Alpine White brand, Cobea AG offers a solution for creating brighter smiles, not just in its home country of Switzerland but in many others as well. In its next expansion phase, the company plans to launch its teeth whitening and care products on the Brazilian market too. The journey has not always been plain sailing but S-GE and the Swiss Business Hub in São Paulo were two of the partners that helped smooth the way.


“I get the impression that the consultants at Switzerland Global Enterprise and the Swiss Business Hub know exactly what we need. Sometimes before we even realize it ourselves.”

Hannes Ruh, Member of the Board of Directors, Cobea AG

Why did you decide to enter the Brazilian market?

Hannes Ruh: Health and beauty are hugely important in Brazil – and that goes for all levels of society. The country’s close affinity with aesthetics puts it firmly on our radar, although the population is much smaller than in places like India or China.

What challenges are you likely to face at the new location?

The rules and regulations are highly complex. In contrast to Europe and China, where most cosmetics can be sold without the approval of the pharmaceutical authorities, all cosmetics have to be registered in Brazil. As a result, we had to register with the Agência Nacional de Vigilância Sanitária (ANVISA), which was a long and arduous process. Similarly, the procedure for creating an entry in the Cadastro Nacional da Pessoa Jurídica (CNPJ) – the Brazilian equivalent to the Swiss Commercial Register – has been both nerve-wracking and extremely time-consuming. In fact, it is still ongoing.

What differences have you noticed in terms of the business culture?

Brazilians tend to want to please everyone. As a result, they make a lot of promises – and foreign business partners simply take them at their word. Here’s a concrete example. Five different places might give you five different answers to the same query. Each of them will be correct to some extent. But never entirely.

You speak fluent Portuguese yourself, don’t you? And isn’t it true that Cobea already had some local partners on the ground? If so, why did you decide to get in touch with S-GE?

During our start-up phase, we explored a lot of avenues on our own because some services would have been difficult to finance. For instance, we found an importer via our own network, but they failed at the registration hurdle. S-GE and the Swiss Business Hub were then able to put us in touch with a lawyer and a professional registration firm. 

What other support did you receive?

Trust has grown steadily, although we did have a negative experience with one of the suppliers recommended by the Swiss Business Hub. Now we are at the point where a telephone recommendation from S-GE leads to an agreement being reached with the relevant partner in 80 percent of cases.

What have been the benefits of working together?

The top one has to be the enormous time savings. It amazes me to see just how detailed a knowledge the S-GE consultants have in so many areas. At the Swiss Business Hub in São Paulo, it is not just the enormous degree of professionalism that comes across but also the care and thoughtfulness that we see time and time again.

What advice would you give to other companies looking to expand abroad?

Take advantage of the services offered by the Swiss Business Hubs from the get-go, including when you are setting up your foreign branch, and especially in emerging markets. S-GE knows exactly what a Swiss company needs and, wherever possible, will find partners who speak one of our national languages. Based on the experience of recent years, we at Cobea would listen even more carefully to S-GE now – and would start doing so earlier.

Where will Cobea be in five years?

We want our products to be available in half of all drugstore chains in Brazil. The plan is to establish five flagship stores to promote our products in the key urban centers. In addition, we aim to ensure close and solid collaboration with the country’s dentists, of whom there are around 300,000! We do not regard the members of this occupation as our competitors but rather as our partners. What we want overall is for Alpine White to become the next big thing in Brazil.

“Brazil is a huge market for cosmetic products but it is also a complicated one. Cobea has had to meet a multitude of regulatory requirements. We are delighted to have found some reliable local partners and specialists who were able to provide Cobea with the expert support it needed for this challenging task.”

Bruno Aloi, Senior Consultant South America, S-GE

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