Interview: Vision of innovation

Chris Bennett talks to Bausch + Lomb’s Petra Vacca about its role as an eye care partner

Discovery, difference and innovation have always been at the heart of what drives Petra Vacca, who took over as business unit director for the UKI and Nordics at Bausch + Lomb (B+L) last autumn.

A childhood spent behind the Iron Curtain left the boss of the contact lens division an advocate for innovation, growth and understanding customers. ‘Without innovation there is no growth,’ she says.

Vacca is keen to explain how her early life shaped her subsequent career and business journey. ‘Something that defines who I am is that I was born behind the Iron Curtain; in the Czech Republic, under communism,’ she says. ‘I saw the transitioning from the socialist economy to a democratic, parliamentary republic with free market. I think that is why I was always very curious how things are done very differently in different places.’ As a child she was brought up being told the capitalist West was the enemy, where things were wrong, but she wanted to see it for herself. ‘I left Czech Republic to explore other parts of the world, so I went to work in the US where I wanted to see the ideal of democracy and freedom.’ It ended up being where her career would develop and where she met her husband.

An MBA from De Paul University, Chicago, was added to a business degree and masters from her native country and then a career with a range of companies. These included multinationals, across skincare, oral care, infant and pet nutrition with experience spanning marketing to consumers, retail, key clients and healthcare professionals both on and offline.

Consumer friendly

The experience she brings from other markets goes back to basics, she says. ‘What I learned very quickly is the similarity in how to influence your target audience and how to be there for them, to be in their minds. It’s about having a much more fast moving consumer goods (FMCG) approach to marketing. It doesn’t need to be all so clinical; we are still working with people.’ She says the use of understandable language is key to enabling both eye care professionals (ECPs) and consumers to understand the benefits of the technologies being used.

‘Having consumer-friendly language helps people understand better the benefits of technology and why contact lenses make sense for the practices and their growth.’ She says the end users do not understand technical language so using understandable language with ECPs helps them talk to their customers better.

Becoming the head of the Vision Care business unit for UKI and the Nordics means turning her attention to business success. ‘My focus is to make sure we are adopting the right sustainable growth strategies for our business and for our customers.’ She says this means getting the influence among key business and consumer audiences correct.

Part of that is a job facing the whole of optics: ‘The brand awareness among the end user is very low in the contact lens segment.’ She says the product decision lies with the ECP and that is the key audience to partner with for B+L at this stage. ‘This is particularly true of the UK where the influence of the ECP might be higher than in other European countries.’ She says trials of marketing aimed directly at the end consumer have started successfully, but for the moment the ECP is still the main focus.

The other big job in her new role is to get the message across that, as a leading global eye health business, Bausch + Lomb develops, manufactures and markets one of the most comprehensive product portfolios in the industry, which is available in more than 100 countries.

Growth opportunities

Vacca describes B+L as the ‘leading global eye health business because it is dedicated solely to eye care across a range of markets from drops to intraocular lens and soft contact lens technologies. It has also been at the forefront of technological advances in contact lenses for years.’ She says: ‘Last year (2021), we celebrated our 50th anniversary of introducing mass-produced soft contact lenses. B+L is a leading innovator in reusables and care systems with products such as its triple disinfectant cleaner. While it has around a third of the lens care market, it could be around three percent in the purely soft contact lens market,1 but that is why there is this massive opportunity for us to grow.’

Looking at the last decade, she says of the last five major innovations in materials three of them are from B+L.2 Crucially, the latest innovation, B+L Ultra One Day, is in the fastest growing segment of the lens market, ‘daily disposable silicone hydrogel (SiHy) lenses’,1 she says. ‘We have developed these key technologies on which we can build sustainable growth and practices can join us to benefit from that opportunity.’

Vacca describes Bausch + Lomb Ultra One Day as a next generation SiHy daily disposable lens that complements the portfolio and offers potential. ‘We believe that even though the daily SiHy segment is growing, we still have the contact lens wearer base staying quite static, indicating that there is still a large amount of drop out and others might still not believe they are fit for contact lens wear. Technical advances are needed because that problem will not be solved by ECPs offering their patients lenses using decade-old technology,’ she stresses.

Reaching for the customer data Vacca points out that even among daily SiHy contact lens wearers, 82% are still interested in a contact lens that can help reduce dryness,3 so comfort is clearly still a problem. ‘Even though technology has advanced there is still a massive space, especially for the end of day lens performance,’ she says. ‘If you are a working mum and you wake up at 6.30am you get your lenses in and then your day starts. You have to be able to come back home after work, drive the kids to their clubs and maybe you want to have a nice evening with your partner or friends. In order for this, the lenses have to perform for that entire waking day.’

That feedback from real people shows that around 70% of daily SiHy wearers have to settle for less comfort in order to wear their lenses the entire day and 74% blame their own lifestyle for eye issues.3 ‘They have to remove their lenses earlier than they wish and that is where the space [in the market] is. The technologies in B+L Ultra One Day deliver outstanding comfort for 16 hours of wear4,5 and that’s the breakthrough it offers to practitioners,’ she adds. A full description of the lens can be found by watching the tear film webinar from Optician’s Contact Lens Month at opticiancontactlensmonth.co.uk.

Feedback from early wearers has been impressive, including from people who thought they were unsuitable for wear. ‘The lens offers a real wow factor and has been described as a game changer.’ The key, says Vacca, is that the lens works in synergy with the tear film to promote a stable and heathy ocular surface.6 One wearer described it as a ‘spa lens’ because of how it left the eye feeling after the lens had been removed.

Vacca says the TFOS DEWS II study was the basis for the development of Bausch + Lomb Ultra One Day, it is the first one and it is quite exciting, she says. Along with the other innovations B+L has introduced, this is a great time for practices to partner with the company, she adds.

When asked if all B+L products will adopt the new technology she says there has to be market differentiation within the lens line up. From a portfolio point of view, the new technology will remain at the premium end. Evidence is emerging that as tougher economic conditions feed through the product mix may change as budgets are squeezed.

This segues neatly into the most recent curve ball – Covid and how that has impacted the optical business. ‘My main take away is that practitioners have learned the absolute importance of contact lens business and the subscription model as a sustainable stream of revenue – especially among independents,’ says Vacca.

Understanding loyalty became more evident. ‘It made us consider how we can help our customers, how can we be that helping hand.’ This meant providing guidance and support through training and services such as home delivery. ‘But it’s not just the business element, it is also about consumer understanding.’ Primarily, she repeats, providing convenience to consumers including home delivery.

Pandemic legacy

So are the changes made during the pandemic likely to be permanent? ‘Have they stuck? That’s the big question,’ she says, ‘and we will only see over time.’ In the short term, Vacca is more worried about practitioners who are finding themselves overrun with customers and asking themselves if they have time for contact lenses. ‘That is my concern. My message is chair time is always a concern, it’s limited and precious.’ She said ECPs should not fall into the trap of allowing higher footfall to stop ECPs building their contact lens business and be restricted to short term thinking.’

She says B+L will be working with ECPs on longer term thinking so they do not let the opportunity with contact lenses slip away. To stress the significance of contact lens sales Vacca highlights that contact lens wearers spend three times more in practice, are 80% more profitable than those who only wear spectacles, have a significantly higher retention rate and almost always buy spectacles as well.7 The pandemic showed the benefit of contact lenses, but that learning runs the risk of being overcome by the bulge of traffic coming through the door. People are going back to their old ways of working.

‘Back to basics’ is a phrase which regularly rolls off Vacca’s tongue and she wants to see ECPs understanding their patients’ lives and needs. ‘If practitioners do not tap into the needs of their customers they are limiting what they can offer to the patient.’ Drawing on her experience from the FMCG world, that means having the right questions, being good at discussing lifestyles and having that client-focused approach that drives loyalty.

Vacca says B+L will continue to work across the multiple and independent sectors to support ECPs in that. While the larger retailers are fully-supported, she sees a bright future for a strong independent sector by catering for clients who want more personal attention and the very latest product offerings. She says that the brand can help practices understand their clients and services to improve convenience; and she repeats home delivery as a game-changer.

Another change Vacca would like to see is a shortening in the journey to contact lens wear. Both in new fits and brand changes; that journey length is exacerbated by the set up of the UK market. ‘I would like to see that change and convenience are top of mind, so it’s simpler for the end user and everyone in the business.’ She does not see signs of change at the moment, but customer convenience and speed have to take precedence.

As she takes the helm, Vacca says she wants ECPs to see B+L as a partner in eye care. ‘B+L as a company is purely focused on helping people see better to live better and that is what our customers do and we want to be partners for. This means providing both new technologies and business support for practices to be more successful. I believe in every industry without innovation there isn’t growth, after some time [using a product] there will always be people looking for something more and better to fit their changing and demanding lifestyle and we aim to offer that, to help more people see better to live better.’


  1. EuromContact Data Q1 2022
  2. Contact Lens Material Introduction Timeline: Data based upon manufacturers own published data. Biotrue® ONEday, Bausch + Lomb ULTRA®, Bausch + Lomb ULTRA® ONE DAY.
  3. Results of a consumer symptoms survey of 318 silicone hydrogel daily disposable contact lens wearers. Kadence International, April 2019.
  4. Data on file. Product Performance Evaluation of a Novel Silicone Hydrogel Contact Lens: kalifilcon A Daily Disposable Contact Lenses – Summary of kalifilcon A Patient Comfort and Vision Outcomes for Patients Who Wore Lenses for 16 or More Hours Per Day. Bausch & Lomb Incorporated, Rochester, NY, 2021.
  5. Schafer,J. Stwweffen,R. Reindel,W; A clinical assessment of dehydration resistance for a novel silicone hydrogewl lens and six silicone hydrogel daily disposable lenses. Poster presented at AAO; October 2020.
  6. Rah M. Ocular surface homeostasis and contact lens design. February 2021.
  7. The London Business School, 2001. Seeing things clearly:The profitability of contact lenses for European Eye Care Practitioners.(pdf) Available at: http://www.visioncareprofessional.com/vclp/chapter... [Accessed 13.6.2022]