RICHMOND, Va. -- The yellow sun swirl, representing natural and organic foods, appropriately is the canopy over the convex pharmacy desk where John Beckner, director of pharmacy, joins others at the Virginia Center Marketplace in executing what has become Ukrop's Super Markets' whole-health vision.
Ukrop's executives here say that its newest 63,000-square-foot unit, the 27th store that opened in November, is a work in progress when it comes to whole health. It's a work, however, that is tightly woven and may help set the pattern for future stores as SN discovered on a recent visit.
"The fact that we've expanded our pharmacy to include nutrition speaks to what our focus is in this area," said Beckner. The pharmacy has been consolidated under Ukrop's whole-health department, made up of Beckner, as well as a manager of pharmacy operations, a corporate nutritionist, a food scientist, who is responsible for labeling, and a senior pharmacy specialist.
The pharmacy, located on the back perimeter wall, firmly anchors the 2,500 to 3,000-square-foot store-within-a-store health section. Behind the pharmacy counter are consultation and seminar rooms where Ukrop's conducts numerous health screenings and seminars, immunization programs, free blood pressure checks, medication counseling and its center piece so far, the free diabetes management program.
As supermarket pharmacy directors gather this week in Phoenix, Ariz., for the Food Marketing Institute's 13th annual Supermarket Pharmacy Conference, April 16 to 18, they may well look to Ukrop's as being close to breaking through the compensation barrier for disease state management programs such as diabetes.
Ukrops' is quickly moving to become a certified destination point for diabetes through the American Diabetes Association. The retailer is hopeful it will get reimbursed across the board for its services. Right now it is receiving some compensation through a local HMO for some provided services.
Certification requires that a site have a registered dietitian on-premise as well as a pharmacist who is a certified diabetes educator. The marketplace store has both. Beckner expects the store will be certified within the year. Presently, the chain provides diabetes counseling, blood glucose testing, a diabetes shopping guide and store tours. The retailer also conducts community seminars on the disease. Its last session drew 50 participants.
"The concept is if you make shopping easier for people who have special needs then they'll become loyal customers. People have responded well to this concept. Those with diabetes find it easier to shop here. It's a good business and Ukrop's is providing a community service," said Jeanine Sherry, who was Ukrop's corporate nutritionist and now does consulting for the retailer.
Other programs being tested by the chain include Hyperlipidemia, a project-impact program through the American Pharmaceutical Association. Ukrop's also is sponsoring an Osteoporosis program where the project involves looking at ways pharmacists can get reimbursed for services.
"You'll continue to see our pharmacy reaching out to the community with education programs like these," said Beckner, who believes they have only tapped the tip of an iceberg.
Ukrop's may take its whole-health concept across the Richmond region by positioning several health-focused stores to serve as a hub for whole health and a site to dispense health-related services.
The marketplace store in Glen Allen, located on the north side of the city and bordering Hanover County, a fast developing rural area, is Ukrop's health prototype. Here many merchandising schemes are being tested on how best to integrate a health focus storewide under the theme -- "Live Healthy. Be Healthy!" The motto hangs over the store entrance.
While the Glen Allen store is the whole-health showplace, five units with a natural food selection have been fitted with elements found at the marketplace store such an information-consultation desk and a HealthNotes computer kiosk.
"We have a number of stores that can handle what we have here," said Bob Ukrop, president and chief executive officer of the family-owned company, "but not all our stores have a cafe or a sushi bar. We think we can localize the store to serve the customer in a particular market. We are trying to give our customers what they want. For those that want the best selection of natural and organic foods, they want to come to this store," he added.
The way the marketplace format developed was "very much evolutionary," said Jackie Legg, vice president, solution shopping, who can be credited for creating much of the look and design of the marketplace store. Legg did her research in traveling extensively, visiting many health-wellness formats, including specialty shops such as Wild Oats and Nature's Marketplace. Some of the best ideas she found -- chalkboard signage, low-profile shelves, a central information and tasting area, a coordinated color scheme and an identifiable logo, Sunny -- have all been incorporated into the marketplace store. "We wanted to create a store-within-a-store that was not intimidating or too expensive. We wanted to make it look like another section of the supermarket in which you can feel relaxed and come in and shop," she said. On the day SN visited the store, shoppers could feel very relaxed after being treated to a free, five- minute trigger-point massage given by a local chiropractic company.
The health section is positioned centrally between the seasonal aisle and organic fruits and vegetables. It runs from the front checkstand area to the back of the store into the pharmacy. Legg said she tried to create a valley using high shelves as the border of the section where frozen dairy, bulk grains, nuts, granola, tea and coffee, cosmetics and natural vitamins and environmentally safe products flank the higher shelves. Front, lower-profile shelves, which average about 32 feet in length, contain soups/sauces, rice-grains, soy beans, cereals, organic chips, juice blends and energy bars. Signs clearly mark product benefits such as gluten-free or wheat-free for those concerned about allergic reactions.
Central to the concept is the information station manned by the R.D., who samples new health products and imparts her nutritional knowledge to inquiring shoppers. Traditional health and beauty-care products are positioned between pharmacy and the information desk. Skincare and soaps and a specialty bath, aromatherapy and candle sets can be found on the opposite side of the health section.
The challenge for Delores Chewning, category manager of HBC and general merchandise, was how to pull products that were integrated in regular sets and incorporate them into the new health section. In re-positioning HBC, Ukrop's went to a smaller footprint than is used at other stores.
"Our main emphasis was to take care of our customers' needs and integrate the natural vitamins with natural food here. We moved the entire mainstream vitamins to the back wall next to the pharmacy," said Chewning. In doing so, the mainstream vitamin department was reviewed chainwide. Ukrop's moved to a good/better/best tiered pricing approach using Ukrop's store brand (Leiner), Natural Wealth (Natural Bounty), a name that has a strong following and Nature's Made (Pharmavite), a nationally advertised brand that provides educational support. The review process eliminated 90 stockkeeping units in the section.
The remerchandising effort is paying off, said Chewning. "This store is growing at a faster rate than others because it's new and because of traffic patterns and the emphasis that we are putting on certain sub-categories," she stated. "As far as vitamins, Ukrop's has been growing two to three times the national average. The marketplace store is exceeding that rate," said Chewning.
Sub-categories doing particularly well at the marketplace, which will be expanded, are candles, aromatherapy, specialty bath and natural soaps.
Because information is an important element of the whole-health concept, the chain worked with its distributor, Anderson News, in putting in a good selection of reference books and popular health titles. In addition, Ukrop's, in conjunction with Rodale Press, has put in spinner racks of assorted health and fitness magazines that are being cross merchandised in the health sections of eight Ukrop's stores as well as in the mainline.
While Ukrop's has invested heavily in putting together the store-within-a-store format, it is working hard to have its health message pervade the entire store through product selection, food labeling and signage. "Even though whole-health started out in natural foods and produce," said Sherry, "I feel strongly the concept should extend to the whole store." She mentioned products found in the cereal aisle such as Kellogg's organic cereal and functional foods such as Benecol and Take Control.
"I look at it as a continuum and each person is at a different spot. You've got the McDonald's/Hardee's consumer here as well as the vegan. You can't expect to bring the guy from McDonald's to shop the natural food section right away or buy whole wheat bread."