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CVS expands better-for-you food lineup

Expanded assortment of healthy food items part of store-design revamp

Three years after eliminating tobacco from its stores, CVS Pharmacy is seeking to boost its health image even further with plans for an expanded rollout of healthy food offerings as part of an overall store-design revamp.

It is adding 27 new better-for-you food items under its exclusive Gold Emblem Abound line, along with several new brand-name healthy beverages and nutrition bars. Items in the Gold Emblem Abound line, which are all free from artificial colors and preservatives, include nuts, trail mix, snack bars, sweet and salty snacks, and other grocery and beverage products.

The expanded food-product offering reflects an ongoing initiative at CVS Pharmacy, the retail division of Woonsocket, R.I.-based CVS Health Corp., to enhance the health-focused nature of its 9,600-plus stores.

CVS has remodeled 800 locations and plans several hundred more over the next two years. (Photos: CVS)

Other initiatives underway include cutting back on some indulgent food offerings, moving healthy foods toward the front of stores, dedicating about 25% of checkout-lane space to better-for-you snacks, and introducing healthy-eating “Trend Zones” that showcase rotating, curated selections of paleo, raw and vegan snacks.

CVS outlined its new-product plans in a “product showcase” event for bloggers in New York City this week.

Joe Agnese, an analyst with CFRA Research, said in an interview with USA Today on Thursday that the shift toward more healthful offerings is designed to help CVS “keep up with what everybody else is doing.”

“They’re looking to do this because they want to remain relevant with their customers and be viewed as a local destination for healthy products and items and help fulfill their customers’ health needs,” he said.

CVS, which has already remodeled about 800 locations with a new look, said it plans to roll out the changes to as many as 70 new and existing stores this year and to “several hundred more” in 2018.

The new, health-focused store format includes 100 feet of new health and beauty care and healthy food products. The stores also feature a streamlined layout and new Discovery Zones in key categories highlighting certain product selections, including healthy snacks and other food and beverage options.

"Our new retail offerings leverage our deep expertise in health to enhance our customers' shopping experience,” said Helena Foulkes, president of CVS Pharmacy and EVP, CVS Health, in a statement.

In a presentation to investors in December, Foulkes said store brands were an important element of the chain’s plans to grow the front of the store, or the non-pharmacy categories. CVS has a goal of 25% penetration in store brands, up from about 23.7% in the fourth quarter of 2016, which was an increase of 160 basis points over the year-ago fourth quarter.

The chain is also expanding its use of shelf tags that are used to indicate dietary preferences, including “heart healthy,” “good source of protein,” “gluten free,” “sugar free,” “organic” and “non-GMO project verified.” This summer, CVS will extend the tags to non-foods categories.

Earlier this year, CVS said it had reformulated all of its store-brand food products to remove partially hydrogenated oils, the primary source of artificial trans fats in processed foods. CVS was the first national drugstore chain to do so, the company said, noting that its action came a year ahead of the Food and Drug Administration’s 2018 deadline for the removal of artificial trans fats from packaged foods.

CVS is also removing certain chemicals from its health and beauty care lines, and establishing new standards for vitamins and supplements. Vitamins and supplements will require third-party testing of ingredients, and well as screening for certain “ingredients of concern,” with a goal of full implementation by 2019.

The chain has seen its same-store sales suffer in the non-pharmacy business ever since discontinuing tobacco sales three years ago. Front-of-store same-store sales fell 2.9% in the fourth quarter of last year, compared with the fourth quarter of the prior year.

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