GIANT ADDS 'WELLNESS CENTERS' FOR SCREENINGS

LANDOVER, Md. -- Giant Food here is rolling out an in-store, medical-services program that could serve to reinforce its position as a whole-health provider.The company, a division of Ahold USA, Chantilly, Va., said it entered a joint venture with US Wellness, Gaithersburg, Md., to operate "wellness centers" within its supermarkets that will offer customers a range of health screenings and immunizations

LANDOVER, Md. -- Giant Food here is rolling out an in-store, medical-services program that could serve to reinforce its position as a whole-health provider.

The company, a division of Ahold USA, Chantilly, Va., said it entered a joint venture with US Wellness, Gaithersburg, Md., to operate "wellness centers" within its supermarkets that will offer customers a range of health screenings and immunizations on a daily basis.

Giant said the program was in keeping with its tradition of offering pharmacy-related services.

"If you have to change your lifestyle or eating habits, what better place to do that than at a food store," said Barry Scher, vice president, public affairs, Giant.

He declined to describe the terms of the business relationship with US Wellness other than to say it was a "contractual agreement."

About 50 different services are offered in the wellness centers, ranging from $20 glaucoma screenings to a compete health profile involving several tests for $195. Others services include allergy tests, drug tests, hepatitis screenings, pregnancy tests and hearing tests.

Customers pay out of their own pockets -- the centers do not accept insurance.

"The centers offer consumers a convenient way to obtain preventative health services at low cost without the long waits and work-time absences that physician office visits often require," said Tony Masso, chief executive, US Wellness.

He pointed out that the centers do not diagnose or treat illnesses, customers are counseled to discuss their results with their physicians.

Giant had installed five of the centers by last week and said it expected to have 40 open by the end of the year. They occupy about 150 square feet in an enclosed area adjacent to the pharmacy, and are staffed by US Wellness personnel.

Whole-health experts applauded the move and said it was an indicator of the direction in which supermarkets are evolving.

"Our general belief is that this is something we will see more and more of," said Jim Wisner, president, Wisner Retail Marketing/MarketHealth, Libertyville, Ill.

He echoed Masso's opinion that the centers serve customers by providing an alternative to the "rigmarole" that customers have to put up with to get tests done through a doctor's office.

He described pharmacies as being the "lube shops" of the health care world, where people go for regular maintenance, while doctors' offices are more like the body shops, where major services are performed.

Quicker, more affordable screening technologies are making such programs more practical, he pointed out.

Ukrop's, Richmond, Va., has operated its own wellness centers in 15 stores for about five years, said John Beckner, director, pharmacy/health services, Ukrop's.

"I certainly think the supermarket setting is very viable, and in some ways the best setting for these testing and screening kinds of programs," said Laurie Gethin, senior manager, pharmacy services, Food Marketing Institute, Washington.