Health test kits have had a somewhat spotty history in the supermarket channel. The first lots to hit stores were manufactured by third parties and used DNA samples to check whether a person was predisposed to certain health problems. The tests, interpretation of the results and follow-up counseling were offered by about half a dozen retailers around the country, through their pharmacy or wellness departments.
A number of complaints, capped by a 2006 investigation by the federal General Accounting Office, dampened enthusiasm for those early kits. The agency found that the results from all the tests it purchased “mislead consumers” by making medically unproven, ambiguous predictions.
Yet, consumer interest in disease prevention and healthful lifestyles continues to inspire new products. In what might be called health test kit 2.0, several companies are launching new products this year. Notably, all of them avoid the DNA pitfall.
“Everything we do begins with blood. A single drop of blood will give us all the data we need,” said John Williams, chief executive officer of BioSignia. The Durham, N.C.-based company's kits made a splash in January on the NBC hit reality series, “The Biggest Loser.” The kits, priced at around $90, are available online and in some drug chains, though Williams says supermarket pharmacies are a natural extension.
Do retailers need them? Over the past few years, most supermarkets have built up their own health screening programs covering the most common health conditions. For example, Bashas', Chandler, Ariz., has developed Health Styles, a nine-month series of in-store clinics that test for conditions like allergies or skin cancer. Consumers also learn through events that focus on healthful cooking or breast cancer awareness . Publix Super Markets, Lakeland, Fla., runs regular screenings for cholesterol and blood pressure, as well as immunization clinics. Other chains, like Kroger, Cincinnati, have placed health clinics inside select stores.
The “Biggest Loser” kit is being promoted more as an additional resource for those looking to know more about their health. Williams says consumers are urged to bring the results to their doctors. And that is a message he thinks resonates with all parties.
“It doesn't differentiate from, it adds to,” he said.