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Supermarkets are frontrunners when it comes to food, but drug chains are proving to be champions of health and wellness. Making big inroads recently with on-site health clinics, many of these retailers are also offering free health screenings, educational seminars and ailment-specific support groups. Vitamins, probiotics and other preventative nonfood products are being heavily promoted by most. So

Supermarkets are frontrunners when it comes to food, but drug chains are proving to be champions of health and wellness.

Making big inroads recently with on-site health clinics, many of these retailers are also offering free health screenings, educational seminars and ailment-specific support groups.

Vitamins, probiotics and other preventative nonfood products are being heavily promoted by most. So are items like weigh scales, blood pressure monitors, weight loss pills, Tai Chi DVDs and body massagers, to name a few.

With such forward-thinking health and wellness strategies, supermarkets could learn a lot from these retailers, experts told SN.

“Supermarkets need to be a lot less reactive and more proactive, staying on top of consumer trends like health and wellness,” said Robert Passikoff, founder and president, Brand Keys, New York. “However, supermarkets have to be selective with what they carry in their stores because of a lack of space, traffic flow and other concerns.”

That said, there's no reason why supermarkets can't carry some nonfood products or offer services that touch on the latest trends, he noted.

A blood pressure station, for instance, doesn't take up much space, said Passikoff, adding that shoppers have come to expect this amenity at all types of retail outlets.

Supermarkets can find room for related nonfood products too. Yoga mats and meditation DVDs can be housed on standalone displays. Books and videos centered on eating and living well are also easy to merchandise in nonfood sections, he claimed.

“We're seeing more books and videos on a range of topics, with most of the emphasis on weight loss and other common health-related conditions,” said Bill Bishop, chairman of consulting firm Willard Bishop, Barrington, Ill.

Bishop has also seen standard blood pressure equipment in thousands of stores — drug, mass and supermarkets alike. But these, he predicts, won't be around for long.

“A new generation of measurement system offered by Lifeclinic [Burtonsville, Md.] is coming to the market,” he said. “The system takes blood pressure readings, but also does body mass index and ties directly to a personal website, a more holistic offering.”

Many drug chains and mass retailers are taking health and wellness to an even higher level, said Ted Taft, managing director, Meridian Consulting, Westport, Conn.

“Drug stores and pharmacies have had machines where you could take your blood pressure for quite a while,” he said. “Now they have health clinics, which are a much bigger thing.”

Clinics provide a new source of revenue for retailers, replacing doctor's offices for minor ailments. They also act as yet another destination that draws shoppers to their stores, Taft added.

The 'DR' IS IN

Duane Reade has several DR Walk-In Medical Care facilities in its New York City stores. Unlike competitors' clinics, which are commonly staffed by nurses or nurse practitioners, Duane Reade's medical facilities are manned by physicians.

Consequently, shoppers can get a diagnosis, a written prescription and proceed to the Duane Reade pharmacy a few feet away to have it filled. Four of the DR Walk-In clinics also have affiliated agreements with Continuum Health Partners that allow their doctors to admit patients to nearby St. Luke's-Roosevelt Hospital Center if necessary.

“It's becoming increasingly evident that having a first-class clinic in a retail store is part of the overall positioning of the store as a key player in food and health,” Bishop told SN. “Over time, some form of clinic is likely to appear in many food stores.”

He recently visited Cub stores in Minneapolis that boast “little doctor's offices.” Target also has well-positioned clinics in its stores there, he said.

Additionally, Bishop praised Mauldin, S.C.-based Bi-Lo for its efforts. The chain, he said, is one of a handful of supermarkets that have adopted similar ideas.

Bi-Lo currently has Wellspot Health and Wellness Centers in more than a dozen of its stores. The chain ties the centers into health and wellness promotions on occasion, offering blood pressure checks and flu shots, said Terry Cerwick, senior category manager of nonfood and pharmacy for the retailer.

Bi-Lo has also implemented an everyday health and wellness program into its HBC departments with signage as the central component.

“Our Relax, Revive, Renew POP expresses our company's invitation for our customers to come into our HBC department and to have a different shopping experience than your typical grocery store,” Cerwick said. “One [sign] encourages them to find items that help them relax from their busy day, revive their senses and renew themselves with our HBC offerings.”

Nonfood products highlighted at Bi-Lo include books, magazines and free literature that offer general health and wellness tips. Some stores also have interactive kiosks touting information about drug interactions, dieting suggestions and advice on living well.

Additionally, the chain cross-promotes exercise DVDs with other health-related items like vitamins, Cerwick said.

Big-Box Health

Big-box retailers have also jumped on the mini-medical-mart bandwagon. Wal-Mart has them in many of its stores. Its clinics offer essential preventative and routine health services for common ailments including bladder infections, blood sugar testing, and camp and school physicals. Other services include common vaccinations, wart removal, basic care for pink eye, insect bites and stings, upper respiratory infections and sinus infections. A typical “Get Well” visit costs $65.

In comparison, cash fees for most medical services at Target Clinics, presently open in Minnesota's Twin Cities and in Maryland, range from $45 to $69. Services are similar to those at Wal-Mart clinics but also include pregnancy testing, splinter removal, stitch removal, wound checks, skin treatments for ailments like acne and eczema, and others.

“CVS has MinuteClinics that are staffed with nurse practitioners and treat people all day long right there at the store,” said Don Stuart, managing director, Cannondale Associates, Wilton, Conn.

CVS is also helping shoppers navigate Medicare's Part D plan. This year, an average of 53 Medicare Part D plans will be offered in each state, a change that is bound to create chaos amongst consumers.

Like most of its competitors, Walgreen Co., Deerfield, Ill., has medical centers — Take Care Health Clinics — in many of its stores. But the chain also has a “Take Care Health Tour” traveling campaign that has effectively put its team of health and wellness experts in direct contact with millions of people since 2005.

Take The Bus

The campaign is centered on nine Walgreens-branded coach buses, said Andrea Matus, spokeswoman for Chicago-based Marketing Werks, the mobile marketing company managing the traveling tour. Each bus is outfitted with blood pressure monitors, blood screening equipment, bone density ultrasound machines and other medical detection devices.

“The buses travel throughout the U.S. and Puerto Rico, parking at Walgreens locations in different cities for around one week at a time,” said Matus. “People can come and have their blood pressure taken and have their glucose, cholesterol, bone density, body mass index and waist circumference checked.”

Each health and wellness screening offered by the Take Care Health Tour staff is worth more than $115, she added. More than 1.5 million screenings were done in 2007 alone, amounting to around $35 million in free medical care.

Duane Reade has also added a unique offering in recent years. In February 2007, the chain opened its first Diabetes Resource Center at one of its locations on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. The center is a comprehensive training and educational facility for patients with diabetes mellitus.

The program is managed and taught by licensed pharmacists and certified diabetes educators and consists of educational classes, scheduled appointments and walk-in services, according to David D'Arezzo, interim chief executive officer and chief marketing officer for Duane Reade.