Supermarket pharmacy hosts an untapped data repository that could serve as a solid foundation for lucrative, customer-focused merchandising initiatives, especially when it comes to whole-health programs.Today, nearly all pharmacy data is measured along drug industry benchmarks, including the number of and profitability for cash scripts vs. third-party transactions. But, an analysis of prescription

Supermarket pharmacy hosts an untapped data repository that could serve as a solid foundation for lucrative, customer-focused merchandising initiatives, especially when it comes to whole-health programs.

Today, nearly all pharmacy data is measured along drug industry benchmarks, including the number of and profitability for cash scripts vs. third-party transactions. But, an analysis of prescription information, beyond counting and processing, has the potential to transform storewide merchandising, supermarket pharmacists say.

Chains such as Hy-Vee Food Stores, Ukrop's Super Markets, Baker's Supermarkets and Pratt Foods have begun to use its pharmacy data to institute health-oriented store tours, targeted food and nonfood product selection by health conditions and better health communications through in-store signage and other informational sources.

Marc Rosenthal, director of pharmacy, whole-health and organic foods, Kehe Foods Distributors, Romeoville, Ill., suggests that "grocery pharmacies have a tremendous opportunity to increase market share and generate sales throughout the store. If the pharmacist recommends $10 of necessary food, HBC or general merchandise items to customers, grocery retailers would have substantial reason to invest in disease-state merchandising, or more fully equip the stores with an increase of better-for-you selections."

Joe Shannon, executive vice president, Kehe Foods, asserts that many consumers shop by channel for nonfood and HBC categories, and they aren't familiar with the scope of products offered in the grocery store's nonfood and prescription drug departments.

To bring greater awareness to these departments, Rosenthal said, "A category management-type of approach to prescription sales could identify which sections of the store should be looked at more closely and possibly re-merchandised to better meet demand." He believes that store-clustering by disease state is not necessary since many of the country's top disease states occur within all communities.

Kehe Foods works with national grocery chains and local stores to create well-appointed supplement sections, in addition to specialty food and nonfood areas, that distinguish products for customers' specific health requirements.

Bold channel strips that organize supplements for bone care, women's health, cardiovascular disease and other uses guide consumers to relevant products. "Monitoring the sell-through of supplements, too, is another source of information that grocery retailers can use to develop customer-focused selections throughout the store," Shannon said.

Management at Pratt Foods, Shawnee, Okla., one of the industry innovators of whole-health merchandising to promote healthier lifestyles through better and informed nutrition, believes that several correlations between pharmacy and the main store can be examined.

Lon Pennington, Pratt's director of pharmacy, maintains that "a pharmacist can review prescription sales information to understand if 'fair share' scripts are being filled." For example, a store located in a neighborhood with young families, or near a commercial center with young professionals should fill an approximate number of children's prescriptions. According to Pennington, high-average-low penetration of children's script volume can be shared with HBC and grocery to ensure that ample vitamins, juices, etc., are available.

Pennington is confident that grocery stores can begin to develop enhanced food and nonfood selections based on the population's most prevalent illnesses and conditions. Heart disease, high blood pressure and high cholesterol patients often have similar dietary needs, and can be fully accommodated by the right foods in the grocery store, rather than having to go to a specialty store.

Supermarkets are using pharmacy-conducted tours to integrate health services with the rest of the store to meet consumers' particular nutritional and health care needs. Products throughout the store -- from perishables to bakery to HBC -- are examined in detail, so that diabetics understand food labels, and can identify items that increase blood sugar levels.

Bob Egeland, assistant vice president, pharmacy operations at Hy-Vee Food Stores, West Des Moines, Iowa, sees accelerating attendance at food and pharmacy tours for diabetics in more than 100 Hy-Vee stores that offer this program. A dietitian, the pharmacist and sometimes a produce or HBC manager conduct the tours and provide insight regarding the benefits or difficulties of certain products or distinct food categories.

"While the pharmacist is the point person for the diabetic store tours, all departments contribute to the success of each session. Sugar-free cakes in bakery, sugar-free cough drops in HBC plus specific fruits and vegetables orient diabetics around the store," said Egeland.

In response to the nation's soaring incidence of juvenile and adult-onset diabetes, Hy-Vee developed a program with Drake University in Des Moines to certify pharmacists as trained diabetes care counselors. Drake's comprehensive diabetes educational program, certified by the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy, boasts more than 60 Hy-Vee pharmacists as graduates. Said Egeland, "The pharmacists are very enthusiastic about sharing their knowledge with customers, assisting them in-store, and reaching out to the community."

Last November, Hy-Vee conducted its second annual "Living Well With Diabetes" Entertainment-Educational Seminar. The program, which attracted several hundred people, featured Miss America 1999 and the musical group "The Pump Girls." Attendees participated in sessions with physicians, podiatrists, nutritionists and pharmacists.

Each month the pharmacy department at Ukrop's Super Markets, Richmond, Va., displays an important grocery product to reinforce the link between nutrition and health care. Outposts of calcium-enriched orange juice, for example, alert patients with osteoporosis that in addition to supplements or dairy products, juices are now commonly fortified with calcium.

John Beckner, director of pharmacy at Ukrop's, notes that "displays of common and specialty foods at the pharmacy encourage customers to have an informative conversation with the pharmacist. The supplier community has been extremely helpful providing literature and health-related tips for products ranging from oatmeal to sugar-free cookies and candy."

Beckner said he believes that merchandising by disease state is a natural for grocery pharmacies. "Diabetes is the most prominent example of a medical situation that directly ties in to each food department, and showcases a broad array of diagnostic devices and HBC items that grocery stores now offer."

At Baker's Supermarkets, Omaha, Neb., the pharmacists developed whole-health information cards to share prescription, nutritional and lifestyle advice with patients. These colorful cards contain objectives and regimens for patients with health ailments such as asthma, arthritis and cardiovascular disease. Mike Arndorfer, pharmacy director at Baker's, believes that "cross training pharmacists as nutritionists, dietitians or disease-state specialist educators is extremely beneficial to consumers and to the grocery store."

Arndorfer believes that the pharmacist can alert consumers to proper food and HBC selections, and rely on the whole-health information cards as key talking points for people with specific nutritional needs.

To educate cardiovascular patients about new products, Baker's initially merchandised Benecol in the pharmacy before the novel cholesterol-lowering spread moved to the dairy planogram. As far as merchandising the store according to disease state, Arndorfer thinks a general storewide awareness of better-for-you foods is a realistic program to implement, and to coordinate with pharmacy.

He favors integrated planograms and believes "the opportunity to compare labels of appropriate vs. off-limits products is meaningful to customers who watch their diet. A storewide labeling system that designates which items are safe for diabetics, people watching their cholesterol and blood pressure, or suffer from allergies is an important step prior to merchandising the store according to specific disease states."

Such programs illustrate how supermarket pharmacy is evolving from a service to promote one-stop shopping, and regain total market share from alternative formats to a service that is uniquely positioned to convert prescription customers to grocery customers and vice versa.

Indeed the pharmacy may hold the cure to successful whole-health initiatives and to an even more robust payback based on knowledge of patients' health conditions. Through use of such data, a more tailored selection of most-needed grocery, general merchandise and health and beauty care stockkeeping units can be merchandised according to the store's prescription profile.