CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. -- Intense competition for pharmacy business here is driving supermarket pharmacies to offer incentives like free Coca-Cola, Pepsi and Kleenex to customers who transfer or fill a new prescription.
One food chain here, Bi-Lo, even offered a ham to each customer who took out a new prescription last Thanksgiving.
In addition to Bi-Lo, which has about 20 stores in the Chattanooga area, the city best known for its train is also served by other grocery/pharmacy combo stores like Winn-Dixie and FoodMax; mass merchandisers like Wal-Mart and Kmart; chain drug stores such as Eckerd's, Big B, Revco and Walgreen's, as well as various independent pharmacies.
"This area is inundated with drug stores. Everyone wants in on the action," said Maurice Kopp, a pharmacy specialist for Bi-Lo's Mountain Region, based here, a division of Bi-Lo Inc., Mauldin, S.C., which is in turn owned by Ahold, Zaandam, The Netherlands.
Food/drug combo stores have an advantage in the crowded pharmacy marketplace, he said, because they are able to offer shoppers the convenience of buying groceries and filling prescriptions at the same location.
Bi-Lo ran a promotion offering its pharmacy customers a free small pack of Kleenex when they filled a prescription at the pharmacy. A Bi-Lo coupon also offered a 50-cent reduction on other Kleenex products sold at the store. The program began in the last week of October and lasted two weeks.
"We've given a lot of Kleenex out. This is one of the things we try to do to get people in our stores. The majority are our regular customers, but we'll pick up a few new ones, too," Kopp said.
"It's been doing pretty good. Some customers ask for the Kleenex, or we just give it to them," said Johnny Swann, a pharmacist at a Bi-Lo store in the Dallas Bay area. "The free sample they get is a small pack."
Such promotions are regular events for Bi-Lo. In late September Bi-Lo gave away free 12-packs of Coca-Cola to customers who took out new prescriptions. "That worked very well," Kopp said. And last Thanksgiving, Bi-Lo gave away a free ham to every customer who took out a new prescription. The promotion took place at all the chain's 32 stores in Tennessee and north Georgia. "It cost us a lot, but it was really popular," Kopp said. He said he didn't know how many hams the chain gave away.
Bi-Lo's next promotion will be on Accu-Chek, a diabetes kit that retails for $50, which is being sold with a 100% manufacturer's rebate.
"We usually have a promotion all the time," Kopp said. "It's very competitive around here. If we don't advertise we don't get our name out to the public. We want to have as much exposure as possible." Bi-Lo combination stores have delis, banks and flower shops.
Another food/drug combo chain, Winn-Dixie, has given away two 12-packs of Pepsi or Coke to customers who transfer or buy a new prescription. The promotion has been running regularly for the past few months.
"The purpose is to build pharmacy business," said Gerald Steele, a marketing director at Winn-Dixie's Atlanta division. "The promotion is doing fine," he said.
Winn-Dixie has promoted Coke and Pepsi on alternate weeks -- with apparent success. One Winn-Dixie has filled four to five new prescriptions each day because of the promotion, estimated Barry Bates, a pharmacist at Winn-Dixie.
"A lot of people shop for the best price on a prescription," Bates explained. "The promotion brings customers into your store."
But what happens when the promotion ends?
"Hopefully, they'll keep coming back even if we don't have the Pepsi or Coke promotion," he said. "It's not like they wouldn't get the prescription filled if they didn't get a Coke."
Bates said Winn-Dixie's policy is to meet or beat everybody's prices. "We're very competitive with Wal-Mart or Kmart."