HEALTHY CONNECTIONS

SUPERMARKET PHARMACY is an undisputed component of whole health marketing, but it remains to be seen how much of a power train it can be to drive whole health throughout the store and into the food aisles.Since whole health came into practice in the late 1990s, pharmacy and its team of trusted health care professionals was the most logical department to champion health and wellness solutions. According

SUPERMARKET PHARMACY is an undisputed component of whole health marketing, but it remains to be seen how much of a power train it can be to drive whole health throughout the store and into the food aisles.

Since whole health came into practice in the late 1990s, pharmacy and its team of trusted health care professionals was the most logical department to champion health and wellness solutions. According to the Food Marketing Institute's 2004 Supermarket Pharmacy Survey, "Pharmacy is the one department in food retailing with the ability to meet the whole consumer."

It has access to customers with chronic diseases and acute ailments and can function as the hub from which medications, diet and food choices, health information and professional guidance can be coordinated and disseminated.

While many disease-state and wellness programs have originated from the pharmacy, few of these programs actually cross over into the food and nonfood departments in a truly integrated manner that encompass the whole store. In many cases, the pharmacy remains an isolated entity.

"We've been trying to drive it," said John Fegan, senior vice president, pharmacy, Ahold USA, who is based at Stop & Shop in Quincy, Mass. "It's like the tail wagging the dog and pharmacy is a small piece of the operation. We definitely have a vision but it has been difficult to get everybody to buy into it." (See A Plan for Integration.)

Even though whole health has been around for nearly a decade, Curtis Hartin, director of pharmacy for Schnuck Markets, St. Louis, Mo., said he doesn't see a lot of traction to the concept because of little demand from Schnuck's customer base.

"There are companies spending a lot of resources trying to promote the concept and nurture it and move it along and try to build business. But I don't see it really being a part of the mainstream consciousness. I don't see people making the connection between pharmacy, food and the healthy food sections," he said.

However, John Beckner, director of pharmacy and health services, Ukrop's Super Markets, Richmond, Va., said the whole health movement is alive and well and pharmacy continues to be an integral part of it. However, he added, "I am not sure the pharmacy is the driver in whole health. I see dietitians and registered dietitians playing an even bigger role now because of the dietary component. The counseling that goes along with healthy foods has become very important."

In its newly released Educational Foundation study, "Leveraging the Connection Between Pharmacy and the Whole Store," the General Merchandise Distributors Council, Colorado Springs, Colo., proposes a different approach to executing whole health programs so they are better integrated throughout multiple food and nonfood departments.

The study shifts the emphasis away from pharmacy and disease-state management to what the prescription shoppers actually buy in managing and coping with their health conditions. Fourteen high-value medical conditions are identified. Information Resources Inc., Chicago, supplied data from its RxPulse Patient Panel to analyze what shoppers with these conditions actually buy. From the point-of-sale data and focus group sessions, products were selected based on consumer purchases related to these various medical conditions. Programs were then structured around conditions like heart, women's health, upper respiratory infection, allergy/asthma. Such high-value conditions, which hold critical mass in terms of numbers of customers with the condition, can involve food and nonfood products in multiple departments.

While the pharmacy plays an important role in the process, it is not the sole driver but rather a "connector" department that can reinforce the value of such programs and in doing so better connect to the customer.

"If you are going to do whole health programs you can't just do it in the prescription department," said Roy White, vice president, education, for GMDC. "You've got to do it so it encompasses produce, center store, health and beauty care, and other healthy products and departments throughout the store. If it doesn't do that then it's just half a program."

The study recognizes the challenges supermarket pharmacies face today and structures its program so that no extra pressure is placed on the pharmacy in having to spend time away from the pharmacy operation. "Our challenge is lines of people getting scripts filled and Medicare card concerns," noted Fegan.

"Our pharmacies stay pretty darn busy filling scripts and talking to patients about their conditions, medications, therapies and over-the-counter products," said Hartin. He added that Schnuck's pharmacists do not have in-depth knowledge on the nutritional aspects of food.

To move forward in overcoming challenges, the study recommends bringing together the stakeholders in the project. "It's so difficult to get programs like this coordinated," said White. "In the study, we recognize that if you are going to make any program that we've suggested work, it is necessary that all departments within the store be brought on board to participate and that is not so easy to do," he said.

The stakeholders are the retail executives from the different management disciplines, including pharmacy. But if a supermarket can accomplish this, the payoff is immense, said White.

Another stakeholder is the manufacturer. Fegan noted that grocery manufacturers now call on the pharmacy and the pharmacy marketing department. At Stop & Shop he has worked with the Dairy Association on getting 5 a Day health information on private-label milk carton panels, Archer Daniels Midland on an osteoporosis promotion and Ocean Spray on a women's health initiative.

According to Jim Wisner, president, Wisner Marketing Group, Libertyville, Ill., on the food manufacturer side there is a lot of understanding from a health standpoint. "It's food talking about health rather than pharmacy talking about food."

To capitalize on whole health, he said, "Supermarkets are the only channel of trade that can really pull this off all the way. It's the one big opportunity that would be difficult for somebody else to snatch away."

A PLAN FOR INTErGRATION

Paulette Thompson is on a mission. As Stop & Shop/Giant-Landover's health and wellness manager, a newly created position based at Landover, Md.-based Giant Food, Thompson is charged with executing wellness programs at Stop & Shop, Quincy, Mass., and Giant.

Thompson, a registered dietitian who has been with Giant Food for 14 years as the food and nutrition coordinator, said both retail companies have a long history of promoting health and wellness programs and it will be her job to take the best practices from both banners, then integrate and execute programs throughout the two companies. Her first task, to educate top management on whole health programs, seeks to break down any operational barriers to executing these programs.

"It will be my job to educate everyone on what health and wellness is, what the customer wants and needs, and if I can do that I can probably get everyone to buy in to these programs. They can understand where it fits in with their products or their departments," she said.

Thompson will serve as chair of a wellness steering committee that is being formed to develop and promote health and wellness programs. The panel will collect top executives from all departments, including public affairs, consumer affairs, marketing and merchandising, store operations, perishables, grocery, nonfood, private label and pharmacy.

"We want to make sure that everybody understands health and wellness throughout the company."