The supermarket industry is forever attempting to improve the underrated role pharmacies play in health and wellness. The problem has been that no one has yet figured out how best to break down the wall that separates the pharmacy and the food side of the business.
The confusion is understandable. Compared to the rest of the store, pharmacies are not sexy, they're not fun and not many consumers enjoy their visit. They're often ill or have a medical condition, and simply wish to pick up their medication, with little thought of shopping the rest of the store.
Frustrated by this silo effect in the pharmacy, retailers have turned their attention to the rest of the store. They're much more comfortable working with a palette of colorful produce, organic cereals, bold-flavored energy drinks and calcium-rich yogurts.
A few operators have tried to bridge the gap. Most recently, Wegmans Food Markets in Rochester, N.Y., began merchandising healthful food items near the pharmacy, tying the display to popular health messages. Now that we're entering the cooler weather, the displays will feature foods that help fight colds and flu, such as orange juice or soup, according to the retailer. Other times, the “eat well, live well” displays might highlight low-fat dairy products or whole-grain breads.
Yet, for all the effort put into bringing pharmacy and food together, there's growing evidence that pharmacies are doing just fine on their own. Last month, Big Y Supermarkets opened a first-of-its-kind wellness center inside a store in its hometown of Springfield, Mass.
The retailer worked with the Western New England College School of Pharmacy to develop the center, described as a “faculty pharmacist-run, patient-centered consultation and wellness center.” Free services include education and training programs, blood-glucose evaluations, individualized patient care plans and medication review.
In Schenectady, N.Y., Price Chopper Supermarkets — winner of SN Whole Health's 2010 Enterprise Award for wellness marketing — runs a “Prescriber Education Program” where the chain's pharmacists visit doctor's offices to talk about the chain's educational programs and pharmacy services. Officials describe it as a “softer sell” that augments the medications doctors are prescribing.
These types of initiatives speak directly to the role many pharmacy advocates feel the department should play, particularly in light of the health care reform laws and their emphasis on universal coverage and cost savings. In this scenario, the pharmacy can be a destination in itself, independent of the supermarket, a professional center of disease management.
Retailers who can visualize the pharmacy as a tool of health care management — rather than a sales-driven supermarket department — will quickly discover a host of new opportunities. However, succeeding with this approach will require stakeholders to recognize that all of the growth will likely come from outside of the store.