Can a pharmacy relate to selling pickles, wine and doughnuts?
The question demonstrates the critical role diet plays in preventing and controlling many diseases. A pharmacist treating a hypertensive patient might warn against the high-sodium pickles in aisle three. Wine contains sulfites, which can aggravate asthma -- a tip that might help keep a chronic asthmatic out of the hospital. Sugar-free cakes, made in the supermarket's bakery and displayed at the pharmacy, make sense for a diabetic advised to avoid the powdered doughnuts.
Pharmacists in groceries are taking on expanded roles and working with stores' nutritionists and dietitians, often acquiring additional training in nutrition themselves. As authority figures helping customers stay healthy, they promote the pharmacy and new pharmacy business as well, said grocery store officials.
"We are recognizing the potential of the supermarket to offer value in 'good nutrition' and putting together programs to provide consumers with the opportunity to learn more about the food they eat and their overall health, in conjunction with the medications they are taking," said John Fegan, director of pharmacy for Stop & Shop Cos., Quincy, Mass.
In doing so, supermarkets are responding to shoppers' hunger for information on diet and health care -- and store programs promoting wellness are increasingly involving pharmacists, who help shoppers make healthy lifestyle choices.
"The baby boomers have always been like sponges, wanting more and more information. And companies who don't recognize that and are not able to provide that information, are going to be left in the dust," Fegan added.
Pharmacies are becoming more involved with health programs at chains in a variety of ways.
At Dominick's Finer Foods, Northlake, Ill., the pharmacy department recently worked with the chain's consumer affairs department in a "healthy heart" promotion, and a program promoting women's health, said Nancy Siler, manager of consumer affairs.
Activities at the supermarkets during last year's American Heart Month included smoking cessation clinics at pharmacy stores where health professionals at the pharmacies took customers' temperature, pulse and blood pressure, said Siler. As an added incentive to participating in the clinic, an exercise machine was raffled off.
The screenings were tied with programs on the food side that included dietitian-led store tours on nutrition labeling and the food pyramid. Articles on the topic also ran in the chain's monthly "Fresh Report" consumer newsletter.
Dominick's stores recently teamed up with a local hospital which had a grant to promote women's health, addressing issues including osteoporosis and nutrition. Brochures were distributed at pharmacies and from the chain's 29 consumer information centers, where nutrition, health and wellness ideas are dispensed through the newsletter and from computer kiosks, said Siler.
"We are working more closely with the pharmacy. They have more pharmacies than I have consumer information centers, with a captive audience of customers filling prescriptions. Working jointly with the pharmacy in customer education is another avenue I have to reach customers with wellness and nutrition information," said Siler.
Ukrop's Super Markets, Richmond, Va., also is very much aware of the important link between good nutrition and customer wellness. The pharmacy teams up with the corporate nutritionist at Ukrop's, who provides continuing education programs for pharmacists in nutrition, and helps coordinate community activities such as health fairs at local employers where Ukrop's may sponsor pharmacist-manned booths.
"This is an area where we can set ourselves apart from traditional drug stores; we work very closely with the corporate nutritionist to develop in-house programs," said John Beckner, director of pharmacy for Ukrop's.
The pharmacy can identify customers who would benefit from store tours to help those with special dietary needs find appropriate foods on Ukrop's shelves. A healthy shopping guide for diabetes patients is distributed at the pharmacy, complementing a quarterly diabetes newsletter.
Supplements, vitamins and herbs were the scheduled topics for Ukrop's recent two-hour consumer education workshop where topics are sometimes suggested by the pharmacists, said Jeannine Sherry, president of New Wellness, Richmond, Va., the chain's nutrition consultant.
"There is a tremendous opportunity for customer education in diet and nutrition at the pharmacy; but many [retailers] have not taken advantage of it. Pharmacists do not always have a good background in nutrition. We try to teach them basic nutrition -- give them practical, hands-on information they can use to answer customers' questions," she said.
Other chains are experimenting with other approaches.
Prescription customers at one Southwestern food/pharmacy chain receive computer-printed lists of foods that may affect their disease or interact with their drugs. Some supermarkets with deli departments offer prepackaged meals for diabetics. Shelf-couponing is used to point persons with special dietary needs toward the products they should be buying. Screenings for persons who can benefit from dietitian-led store tours can be held at the pharmacy, where the tours are advertised.
Indeed, "do-it-yourself" consumers, taking responsibility for their good health, are looking for assistance in purchasing foods, medications, dietary supplements and healthcare devices, according to an executive report released earlier this year by the General Merchandise Distributors Council, Colorado Springs, Colo.
What GMDC calls health-enhancing foods, such as fruits and vegetables, organic foods and fortified foods, should be an opportunity for both the pharmacy and food departments.
The inherent relationship between pharmacy and food can help supermarket pharmacies shed a negative image of being overpriced and less professional than other community pharmacies.
"We have a great advantage over the independent drug store and the chain drug store if we can develop this synergy between the pharmacy and supermarket," said Tom Noles, director of pharmacy at Market Basket, Nederland, Texas.
"Many of those customers shopping in your supermarket are trading at some other pharmacy. You've got to give them a reason to shop with you," said Noles.