BALTIMORE -- Whole health is the catalyst expected to drive the supermarket pharmacist over the counter to lead the charge to wellness for grocery shoppers and food retailing in general.
"As consumer wellness and whole health rapidly become the focus for supermarkets, the role of the pharmacist is also evolving, from pill dispenser to patient care provider," said Jim Cordes, director of professional services at Schnuck Markets, St. Louis, during the Food Marketing Institute's Supermarket Pharmacy Conference here yesterday. Cordes chaired this year's meeting and the Pharmacy Services Committee.
More than 450 people, who gathered for the conference April 18 to 20, are focusing on how supermarket pharmacy can create a whole-health environment. "Supermarket pharmacy has the potential to take pharmaceutical care to a whole new level," said Laurie Gethin, manager of the FMI's Pharmacy Services, Washington.
Although the assignment of the pharmacist and the prescription drug department as the pivotal point for the store's whole-health positioning appears to be a logical and potentially lucrative step, it will not come easily. Yet, many agree that doing so is an integral part of supermarkets' survival in today's competitive retail environment. "Repositioning the community pharmacist as a front-line health care professional will require the collaboration of many players. Retailers, manufacturers, educators and others must work together to ensure that consumers receive valuable health care information and advice. Academic and training programs must be developed to meet the needs of the emerging health care marketplace," said Gethin.
Besides the FMI, the General Merchandise Distributors Council, Colorado Springs, Colo., the organization that initially spearheaded the whole-health marketing concept, also recognizes the importance of the pharmacist in executing a whole-health strategy. Answering the call for training, it has designed a continuing education seminar for supermarket pharmacists on whole health. The first seminar will be given at Bi-Lo, Greenville, N.C., June 22. (See the related lead story on Page 105.)
Tom O'Connor, PharmD MBA, director of continuing education at Temple School of Pharmacy, Philadelphia, has designed the program, which will examine specific challenges such as high cholesterol, high blood pressure, weight reduction and diabetes where nutrition and therapy are critical in achieving wellness.
"Health is a triangle between exercise, nutrition and therapy.
The pharmacist is in an ideal position to help with at least two of the corners -- nutrition and therapy. Drugs and food can interact in both a positive or negative way and the pharmacist is there to help with those two parts of the puzzle. They can work within the supermarket to make sure people get the right medicines and foods that complement their therapy," said O'Connor.
Much of the opportunity and the challenge lie in the nutritional component of whole health.
"Drug chains don't have the nutritional component, which is critical and that's why it's such an opportunity for supermarket pharmacy to really take the lead," said John Beckner, pharmacy director at Ukrop's Super Markets, Richmond, Va. "[Nutrition] is not evident with drug chains because they sell snack foods. That's not nutritious food and it's not whole health."
But the main question remains: how can pharmacy be integrated with other food and related-health departments?
"Integrating the pharmacy into other departments just seems like a no-brainer," said Joe Jeffries, pharmacy director at Riesbeck Food Markets, St. Clairsville, Ohio.
However, others point to territorial concerns, management commitments and, in some cases, physical store layouts that need to be surmounted. "There tends to be a separation between the pharmacy, grocery and other departments. I think that operations is the department that could bring us all together," said Barrett Moravec, director of pharmacy for Abco Foods, Phoenix.
Pratt Discount Foods, Shawnee, Okla., is known to be a leader in positioning its pharmacists in the central role of orchestrating a wellness approach throughout the store. The pharmacy department is fully integrated with vitamins and nutritional supplements and health information. "I see the pharmacist in the produce department," said J.B. Pratt, owner and chief executive officer.
"I see this happening. The pharmacist will spend more time with the customer out in the supermarket."
However, Pratt sees few willing to make a full commitment as yet. "It's a total commitment that requires putting a variety of supplements, herbs and educational material together. It's a commitment to re-educating the pharmacists. I don't know how many will do it. There is a major shift in thought processes from treatment of sick people to helping keep people well," he said.
In repositioning its pharmacy on a whole-health focus, Stop & Shop Supermarket Co., Quincy, Mass., involved the whole [food] pyramid and is using pharmacy as the driver, said John Fegan, vice president of pharmacy. "You have to have the commitment from everyone involved in the pyramid. This involves most all departments. You also have to have commitment from your senior executives of the organization," he said.
But most agree the surface has barely been scratched when it comes to fulfilling the pharmacist's role in whole health. "A lot of those in the industry have elected to take a 'wait and see' approach," said Beckner.
"If we don't act on this movement, then shame on us and we'll be left in the dust," said Fegan of Stop & Shop, who sees today's pharmacists more broadly trained to go beyond just counting and pouring medications.
Paul Schneider, director of pharmacy operations at Food Circus Supermarkets, Middletown, N.J., warned about missing another opportunity. "We missed the health-food expansion in the 70s to the GNC's and others because we were busy selling greeting cards and toys."