BALTIMORE -- Whole health, if well-planned, can stand on its own as an attraction and service for supermarket shoppers, said Jackie Legg, vice president for solution shopping at Ukrop's Super Markets, Richmond, Va.
Legg addressed a gathering of 100 supermarket executives, pharmacists, suppliers and academics during a workshop at the Food Marketing Institute's 12th Annual Supermarket Pharmacy Conference held here last month.
"Whole health is going to present you with an entirely new way to help your customers provide a better opportunity for taking responsibility for their own health." She encouraged retailers not to worry about having many answers. "This industry of whole health is so in its infancy that no one has figured it out yet," Legg observed.
Session chairman John Beckner, director of pharmacy for Ukrop's, then asked each set of participants to spend time caucusing on a number of whole-health questions.
The first working group produced a definition of whole health: "A store-wide program dedicated to maintaining and improving the health of our customers through products, information and also services."
Another group was asked to assess obstacles to developing whole health -- at the corporate and store levels. Though some sources asked SN not to identify them, one participant suggested, "Sometimes, there's jealousy between departments. The best way to deal with that is to get a clear commitment to the program from the top level of the company."
In its report, the working group cited the need for education of associates in the store. It said, "The produce manager may be the best produce manager in the state, but he may not know that potatoes are good and lettuce is bad -- or that potatoes are bad -- or they're bad if you load 'em up with butter. He needs to know those things so that he can pass it on to the patients."
Though many pharmacists are enthusiastic about implementing whole health, one supermarket executive noted, "There are some pharmacists who basically say, 'I've got all this education to dispense drugs and now I have to sell food.' "
There was also discussion about the costs of providing nutritional counseling and other services. Partnerships with colleges and managed care were recommended. It was noted that Tops Friendly Markets, Buffalo, N.Y., is reimbursed by a local Health Maintenance Organization for whole-health tours of its stores, which are led by a nutritionist.
Not surprisingly, there was widespread agreement that the pharmacist should be the designated "champion" of whole health. That group concluded, "At the store level, you need a person that really lives and breathes the whole idea of whole health."
J.B. Pratt, chief executive officer of Pratt Foods, Shawnee, Okla., noted, "The R.Ph.'s background and credentials are such that they support the legitimacy as gatekeeper of the whole process."
The group addressing marketing suggested that because a good whole-health plan requires flexibility, the marketing plan also needs to be flexible. It also advised, "The word 'patient,' in terms of marketing, should be taken out and the word 'person' or 'customer' substituted."
In her closing remarks, Ukrop's Legg said that rethinking may be more necessary than restocking: "We made a list of all the things we were doing in our stores that were in some way health-related. We already had a lot going on, but we had done nothing to market that as one unified program to the customer."