HEALTHY OPTIONS

MINNEAPOLIS -- Three retailers in the Twin Cities market are taking their role as whole-health providers to another level with extensive services and educational programs.For Kowalski's Markets, Woodbury, Minn.; the Lunds and Byerly's stores run by Lunds Food Holdings, Edina, Minn.; and Cub Foods, Stillwater, Minn., the price-oriented division of wholesale giant Supervalu, Eden Prairie, Minn., whole-health

MINNEAPOLIS -- Three retailers in the Twin Cities market are taking their role as whole-health providers to another level with extensive services and educational programs.

For Kowalski's Markets, Woodbury, Minn.; the Lunds and Byerly's stores run by Lunds Food Holdings, Edina, Minn.; and Cub Foods, Stillwater, Minn., the price-oriented division of wholesale giant Supervalu, Eden Prairie, Minn., whole-health products have become a profitable part of their merchandising mix. All three retailers were featured in store tours and educational panels as part of the recent Food Marketing Institute's Whole Health Solutions Workshop held here.

But besides integrating whole-health products into their offerings, the retailers are adding convenience services like clinics, educational programs and pharmacies.

"The importance of the pharmacist is crucial to what is going on today," said Brett Wing, senior director of marketing/merchandising at Cub. "We have heightened the awareness of pharmacies in our stores." The company is adding drive-through windows wherever possible, he said, and a special pharmacy advertising circular includes information on topics such as skin protection and hair-loss prevention.

Cub has put QuickMedx clinics staffed by certified nurse practitioners into nine stores, allowing customers to get tests and prescriptions for common ailments like strep throat, flu and ear infections, he said. QuickMedx is based in Minneapolis. A van-based program, run in conjunction with North Memorial Medical Center, Robbinsdale, Minn., offers vision, diabetes, cholesterol and asthma testing, as well as flu shots and mobile mammogram services.

Lunds, with 20 stores total, has partnered with Fairview Health Services here, which runs pharmacies in some stores, and a Fairview Healthwise Center in one store that provides a wide range of health care treatments, said Bea James, whole-health manager. These include chiropractic, massage therapy, acupuncture, sports injury rehab and weight management. A classroom in the same two-level store allows the retailer to combine efforts with Fairview to run programs on diabetes, Feng Shui, yoga and other topics, James said.

"It's been a great partnership and it also brings a lot of credibility to our Living Wise program," James said. Whole health is about more than stocking products, she said. "You can capture a lot of natural customers if you let them know that you care."

The retailer has seven Living Wise specialty sections staffed by health experts in its stores, with plans for two more this summer. "Most of the locations have exceeded our expectations as far as sales and popularity," James said. Other natural and organic products are integrated into the stores' regular categories, identified by Living Wise signage.

Kowalski's two-year-old store in Woodbury has received much attention for its dedication to whole-health merchandising, but one thing it doesn't have is a pharmacy. Owner Mary Anne Kowalski said the decision came down to space allocation and the plans of Walgreens, Deerfield, Ill., to put a store nearby.

Currently, Woodbury is the only one of Kowalski's nine stores with a whole-health department, "but we will be integrating that into our other stores as the program develops," she said. Pharmacies are in the retailer's future, but they will be more oriented toward natural products than mainstream drug stores, she said.

Pharmacy or not, the Kowalski's Woodbury store includes many other whole-health services targeting the retailer's core female demographic. As customers enter the store -- with it's design simulating an Italian town -- they first see a second-floor facility called "The Next Level" that contains a large function room for classes and meetings, as well as a salon and spa run by Juut here. "It's really a relaxing, pampered treat to come in. It works well within the grocery store and has been very successful," said Linda Day Anderson, culinary partner.

Below the Juut salon on the main floor is a leased-space shop run by Aveda, Blaine, Minn., which offers a high-end line of health-and-beauty care products, as well as a five- to 10-minute chair massage for harried shoppers, Anderson said.

The retailer is fine-tuning its educational programs to those that are in high demand and scheduling them to be more convenient for customers. Meanwhile, the space is also used for programs like a children's music class and for meetings by nonprofit groups.