The supermarket pharmacy is no longer an occasional destination for consumers only looking to fill prescriptions. As more people embrace health and wellness lifestyles, the expertly staffed department has become a critical part of retailers' overall whole-health merchandising strategies.The challenge has been finding ways to use the pharmacy to its best advantage within that larger plan. Giant Food,

The supermarket pharmacy is no longer an occasional destination for consumers only looking to fill prescriptions. As more people embrace health and wellness lifestyles, the expertly staffed department has become a critical part of retailers' overall whole-health merchandising strategies.

The challenge has been finding ways to use the pharmacy to its best advantage within that larger plan. Giant Food, Carlisle, Pa., believes promoting the comprehensive products and services offered by conventional supermarkets, including full-service pharmacies, is the best way to go to market.

"We hope that customers will come to think of us as the smart alternative to the conventional drug store by offering everything customers need all under one roof," said Jodie Daubert, Giant's vice president for general merchandise, health and beauty care.

Giant recently unveiled its "Neighborhood Drugstore" concept that creates a store-within-a-store format linking pharmacy to its health and beauty aids departments. Distinctive purple/blue fixturing and faux wooden flooring set it apart, along with the "Relax, Renew, Revive" message that is found on signage throughout the department. Near the pharmacy counter, there is also a spinning rack offering dozens of brochures on food and nutrition, and other health-related topics.

This is only one example of how, in unprecedented ways, food retailers are starting to leverage pharmacy as a mouthpiece on nutrition, wellness and preventative care. A Food Marketing Institute pharmacy study published this summer reports that whole-health services have helped the supermarket segment maintain its market share. While the actual number of supermarket pharmacies declined from 10,867 to 9,972 in 2005, the sector was able to maintain a 12% share of prescription sales, according to FMI.

"It is most impressive to see more supermarket pharmacies reaching beyond the prescription counter to help consumers improve their health and well being," said Michael Sansolo, FMI senior vice president, in a statement on the study. Health seminars and health-focused recipes topped the list of in-store services - now being offered by 54.3% of supermarket pharmacies. A host of other services included store tours, disease management, health-focused shelf tags, walk-in clinics and nutrition counseling.

Pharmacists at K-VA-T Food Stores, which operates in Kentucky, Virginia and Tennessee, are now being educated on the healthy products the stores carry including information on its additive-free meats.

"They are all trained on the Five-a-Day produce program and the Three-a-Day dairy program," noted Don Clark, the chain's director of pharmacy. This educational initiative has been in place for about a year. The chain operates 93 stores with 57 pharmacies.

For the first time, K-VA-T pharmacists will be spending time in front of the counter. Earlier this year, 40 pharmacists were trained and certified to help work its flu vaccination program. Not only will they be on hand to guide and counsel, but also to actually administer the injections that are to begin in October.

"It helps the customer recognize the pharmacist as a health professional and Food City as a pharmacy," Clark explained.

Pharmacists are also used to notify customers throughout the year on its other in-store programs such as cholesterol testing and bone-density screenings.

Pharmacists are being incorporated into the services provided by in-store health clinics in select Bashas' stores. It now operates three, usually run by nurse practitioners or physician assistants. Direct store participation via the pharmacist is one way to connect with customers on a new level, noted Dan Milovich, director of pharmacy. At an August event, held to review customer medications, pharmacists worked side by side with the nurse practitioners to advise consumers on what was lurking in their medicine cabinets - what should be kept and what should be tossed out. To do that, Bashas' double-staffed its pharmacists that day, so that the pharmacy counter remained fully functional as others worked in the clinic.

Bashas' has also been sending its pharmacists out into the community for similar programs, Milovich said. Already, they have participated in medicine reviews in targeted neighborhoods including trailer parks and senior citizen housing.

Of its 170 stores, 56 have pharmacies, though Bashas' is going full steam ahead with health programs even in units without. Through its HealthStyles program, it conducts a range of in-store events including blood pressure testing, hearing tests and breast cancer awareness programs.

This fall, Schnuck Markets is getting into the health clinic business, too, with four units provided by a new company called instaClinic, where patients will be able to be treated for common illnesses such as allergies, colds and sprains.

"Our new partnership will complement health counseling and education services currently offered to Schnuck Pharmacy customers through our own healthy living initiatives and will further enhance our ability to help customers and associates improve the quality of their lives," said Scott Schnuck, president and chief executive officer of Schnucks, in a statement on the program.

Meanwhile, pharmacists from Giant of Landover, Md., recently participated in the Caregivers Expo in Washington, D.C., where they worked hand in hand with nutritionists to advise consumers on health issues including blood pressure and blood sugar screenings.

Andrea Astrachan, consumer affairs director for the Ahold's Giant and Stop & Shop divisions, noted that it is also starting to reach out to educate families and children by offering store tours for schools and also in-store displays for children called the Kids Corner in its Stop & Shop units.

"We believe incorporating pharmacy into health and wellness is very important," Astrachan said. "The pharmacist can act as a valuable resource to the customer to provide advice on healthy living and we want them to be seen as a resource for the customer."

In the past year, Big Y of Springfield, Mass., has launched its Living Well, Eating Smart program. It includes a full-size magazine covering health and nutritional issues, and a full-time staff dietitian to advise customers and conduct community-service events.

"We felt it would be a service to our consumers to provide a nutritionist who could address their questions at any time," said Karen Rossetti, manager of marketing services.

Steve French, managing partner of the Natural Marketing Institute, said steps such as these position supermarkets to take a leadership role in healthy living initiatives.

"Having both the traditional medicine - such as pharmacy and a full range of nutritional supplements - complemented with a range of healthy foods and beverages is definitely something I think helps with the whole health aura," he said.

Good Advice

Determine pharmacy's in-store role. Is there cross-over potential into whole health?

De-emphasizing the pharmacy's sterile environment can help retailers more easily integrate natural remedies and services.

Consider adding non-traditional staffers like dietitians or nutrition experts, or making them available on set days.

Institute training programs among pharmacy staff that emphasize outreach and public speaking.

Getting Started

For many chains, health and wellness programs are new territory.

"We are just starting to go down the road to incorporate health and wellness through our programs," said pharmacy director Ron Shapiro at Clemens Family Markets of Culpsville, Pa. "We have only had pharmacies for about five years - we saw it as a strategic move in order to maintain and grow our customer base and build on the idea of one-stop shopping."

Already Clemens offers the Health Notes kiosk that provides a range of information of health and nutritional matters. The computer terminal can be moved throughout the store and the home screen can be adjusted to highlight issues of certain departments, such as meat, produce or pharmacy.

"It is a pretty dynamic tool," Shapiro said. Clemens has also been conducting in-store health events such as bone density, cholesterol and body fat testing, in conjunction with food manufacturers including Kellogg and Con Agra's Healthy Choice brand.

"They too are recognizing the link between health and pharmacy and health eating and healthy lifestyle," Shapiro said. "It is all one big happy family."