Food and pharmacy are essential components of wellness, and many retailers are looking for ways to make the connection
When retailers find the link between food and pharmacy, they will also find the key that unlocks the mystery that is wellness, and a clear competitive advantage over drug stores.
With pharmacists a largely untapped resource in many stores, surrounded by foods that directly impact their patients' conditions, supermarket executives are making the integration of food and pharmacy a top priority in their health and wellness efforts.
“We are in the food business, so it only makes sense that we would own health and wellness,” said Pam Heath, director of pharmacy, Sweetbay Supermarket, Tampa, Fla. Speaking at this month's Food Marketing Institute Show and co-located Supermarket Pharmacy Conference in Las Vegas, she said health and wellness is a core part of Sweetbay's marketing, merchandising and operations.
Dietitians, nutritionists and, where available, clinic-based nurses are also part of the supermarket wellness team, and in some cases like Sweetbay, the store manager and other associates have been enlisted. Health-oriented store tours, health fairs, blood pressure kiosks that are increasing in functions, and screenings for various conditions are some strategies employed, along with tried-and-true merchandising techniques like signage. Because of its prevalence in the nation's population, diabetes is a particular focus for many retailers.
“The biggest point of difference for supermarkets is figuring out how to tie in health and wellness in the pharmacy with all the food products we sell that have a direct impact on their disease state,” Randy Heiser, vice president, pharmacy, Giant Eagle, Pittsburgh, told SN. “Walgreens doesn't have that. CVS doesn't have that. Rite Aid doesn't have that.
“We've got the food and we've got the people on staff who are nutritional experts. We just have to figure out what the link is so we can take advantage of it.”
“When we figure this out — and I believe our industry will definitely figure out health and wellness, as well as tying the pharmacy into the rest of the food store — pharmacy is a great place to be the cornerstone for this initiative,” said Chris Dimos, president, Supervalu Pharmacies, Franklin Park, Ill., in another presentation at the FMI Show.
Drawing an analogy to the Academy Awards, he said pharmacy does not aspire to the leading actor honor. “We'd like to have a best supporting role award, because we can't do it by ourselves,” he said.
“Pharmacists have a deep drug knowledge. They don't have a deep nutritional know-ledge, and you have to tie those two things together to get the ultimate benefit for our patients and customers,” Dimos said.
“The supermarkets' pharmacists are beautifully positioned today in our environment where consumers are concerned about health and wellness and taking care of themselves,” said Cathy Polley, vice president, pharmacy services, FMI, Arlington, Va., in an interview after the show.
“Our pharmacists are in the one retail environment where consumers can come in and get all the answers they need to prevent and treat disease,” she said.
“Supermarket pharmacies need to take better advantage of the fact that they are sitting in the middle of where people buy their food,” Donald Clark, vice president, pharmacy operations, K-VA-T Food Stores, Abingdon, Va., told SN at the show. “There are so many food-related ties to health conditions — diabetes and lipid management are the obvious ones — but every time you dig a little bit deeper into chronic health conditions people have, it ties back to something in their diet.”
This gives supermarkets an advantage over other retail channels like drug stores, said Mike Juergensmeyer, group vice president, fuel and pharmacy, Schnuck Markets, St. Louis. “The real opportunity that we have is not only can we help bring them back from illness, but we can actually give them opportunities to eat better so they stay healthy.”
There are conditions where medication is a bigger part of the cure than food and other factors. High cholesterol is one, Dimos said. “The reality around cholesterol is only about 20% of your cholesterol number can be impacted by diet alone. It's driven by genetics primarily and needs to be treated with pharmaceuticals,” he said.
Prescription customers are just one part of the wellness target for retailers. “We also have the opportunity to inform and educate people who aren't on medications, who want to maintain their health,” said John Fegan, senior vice president, pharmacy, Ahold USA, Quincy, Mass. “We can use that big store around us to give them that information so that their health is maintained.
“The value and the leverage we have is all the food around us and the nutritional value of much of that food.”
Supermarket pharmacists can help consumers interpret all the health-related information available, whether in-store, from kiosks, magazines or the Internet, said FMI's Polley. “There is a big difference between just getting information and getting good communications about the information that you receive. That is where the pharmacist really steps up and plays a role.”
Medication therapy management, where pharmacies are reimbursed for counseling patients with multiple prescriptions, is another way that pharmacists are expanding their influence with patients. “The role of the pharmacist is moving from a product provision to a service provision,” said Supervalu's Dimos. This is another revenue source that comes at a time when dispensing margins are being squeezed, he said.
Supermarkets are only starting to make progress toward integrating pharmacy and food. One of the acknowledged leaders is Ukrop's Super Markets, Richmond, Va.
“We need to continue to push innovation and creativity,” said John Beckner, Ukrop's director of pharmacy and health services.
But how to do it? “Store tours, for one thing. Shelf tags that point out healthy food products, tying in other areas of the store with specific disease states, like oatmeal for cholesterol, sugar-free products for diabetes, low-sodium products for people with hypertension,” he said, noting that there were many other possibilities. “It's a matter of packaging it in a way so that customers look to you as a destination for health care.”
Sometimes it simply means the pharmacist “getting out from behind the counter, engaging the patients and talking to them about their overall health — their exercise, smoking, weight loss, diabetes, all of it,” said Michele Snider, senior director of pharmacy, Save Mart Supermarkets, Modesto, Calif.
The Guiding Stars nutrition navigation system developed by Hannaford Bros., Scarborough, Maine, is being used at Sweetbay, and will be considered by non-Delhaize retailers when it becomes available.
Guiding Stars has “given the pharmacist a tool to be able to talk about nutrition, and also a tool for all of our consumers as they shop to focus them on health and wellness,” said Heath of Sweetbay.
“We are definitely going to look at it,” said Ron Peters, vice president of pharmacy operations, Minyard Food Stores, Coppell, Texas. “If you can grab a turnkey program like that, to help take care of your customers as far as healthy eating and making the right choices, I think that's great.”
Bashas', Chandler, Ariz., is focusing on weight loss for employees and later will take a program to customers, said Dan Milovich, vice president of pharmacy operations. The “Know Your Numbers” campaign is being put together by the chain's pharmacy clinical coordinator, and will involve screening procedures at pharmacy locations, such as glucose, cholesterol and body fat composition, he said.
Services like flu shots and cholesterol checks were once the province of medical offices, but availability at retail locations is becoming mainstream, Dimos said.
Supervalu pharmacies also have an “Eating Healthy With Diabetes” program, he said. “We partner dietitians and pharmacists together with patients and their families, and we have them walk through the entire food store and the GM-HBC side, and we help them read labels and understand what's important,” he said.