The pharmacy space is an ever-evolving field, with technological advancements and consumer trends paving the way for new services and programs. While some food retailers are being forced to close their in-store pharmacies, others are expanding their roles through the use of telehealth, apps, wellness clinics, dietitians and more.
A shift in priorities
As competition grows and in-store priorities change along with consumer demand, grocers are left to pick and choose which features they consider most important. California-based Raley’s recently closed 27 of its pharmacies, citing challenges in the space. Likewise, United Natural Foods shut down all of the in-store pharmacies within the Shoppers banner, and Minnesota’s Lunds & Byerlys exited the business within its 14 Twin Cities-area stores.
“The pharmacy business is becoming one in which retailers are either all in or all out,” David Rogers, president of DSR Marketing Systems, told Winsight Grocery Business. “Opportunities are still there for retailers, but only for those who are all in.”
Retailers like H.E. Butt Grocery, Giant Eagle, Kroger, Publix, Meijer and Wegmans are seeing success in the segment, Rogers said, but a lack of profit margin is holding many others back from continuing down the pharmacy path.
Technology, convenience take hold
For those invested in the pharmacy space, technology and convenience have become major differentiators. From Costco’s pilot partnership with Instacart that offers free one-hour delivery of prescriptions to Price Chopper and Market 32’s connection with the Hixny health information exchange to share prescription and vaccination information, retail pharmacies are taking unique steps to interest today’s discerning customers.
Giant Food Stores, for example, has launched mobile apps at its namesake and Martin’s banners that allow pharmacy customers to view their history, request refills and transfer prescriptions. Additionally, Publix has partnered with a local hospital in South Carolina to offer in-hospital prescription delivery, as well as telehealth kiosks at two of its stores.
Retail pharmacies such as CVS and Walgreens are also leading the way on convenience and technology initiatives. The CVS HealthHUB concept calls for 20% of the store to be dedicated to health services and products, while Walgreens is now dedicating space in certain locations to FedEx package pickups and drop-offs.
On the technology side, Walgreens is shuttering many of its in-store health clinics to focus on telehealth initiatives through partnerships with hospitals and larger health systems. The company is also partnering with Microsoft on a connected health platform to offer customers a streamlined health ecosystem.
“Our strategic partnership with Microsoft demonstrates our strong commitment to creating integrated, next-generation, digitally enabled healthcare delivery solutions for our customers, transforming our stores into modern neighborhood health destinations and expanding customer offerings,” said Walgreens Boots Alliance’s Stefano Pessina in a press release.
While the tech push is an important one, some in-store pharmacies are going back to basics to help keep customers healthy. ShopRite is expanding its pharmacy offerings by connecting its dietitians with pharmacy customers in order to make healthy food purchasing decisions for particular illnesses, such as diabetes.
“Our goal is to assist shoppers by coordinating care between our retail dietitians and pharmacists during their shopping trip,” ShopRite’s Jeffrey Mondelli told Produce News. “Just like our dietitian team, our pharmacists are a great source of expert advice to shoppers looking for information on diabetes medicine, devices, or other products related to their care.”
Kroger, which is home to the Little Clinic, is also working to expand its pharmacy offerings, screenings and available vaccinations, according to Jim Kirby, senior director of pharmacy services. While speaking at a recent conference, Kirby touched on the importance of offering services for both business and patient care opportunities.
“If we in grocery are truly going to improve health outcomes beyond screenings, we're going to have to get in deep with how patients are living their life,” he said. “This is something that we really harp on at Kroger. We have to engage every patient, every time.”
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