Value-added services target pharmacy customers

November 21, 2008
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Health and wellness are turning into marketing tools as two major local retailers look to spark sales through their pharmacies.

Spartan Stores Inc. recently unveiled a price of $4 for a 30-day supply of generic prescription drugs at its Family Fare and D&W Fresh Market pharmacies. Three hundred-plus drugs are on the list of those available.

Meanwhile, Meijer Inc. struck a deal with Troy pharmacy benefit manager 4D Pharmacy Management Systems Inc. to offer discounts on a variety of health-related goods and wellness services to employer groups that use 4D’s services. That starts Jan. 1.

Fierce competitors in Michigan, the publicly traded Spartan and the privately held Meijer are using their new programs to attract customers in an area that has been squeezed by shrinking reimbursements and mail-order service that keeps customers out of the stores. And both companies must compete with giant retailer Walmart, which continues to up the cheap-medicine ante, and chains such as Walgreens and CVS that own PBMs.

“With this awareness of the need to be healthier, many pharmacies are in fact now trying to market that pharmacist’s ability to improve health as part of their package of services,” said Larry Wagenknecht, CEO of the Michigan Pharmacists Association. “Free antibiotics, $4 prescriptions — all have marketing tools. They are sometimes used as a loss leader to get someone into the business. It’s not just something free or something cheap, which is the usual draw. They’re trying to package it with this wellness — an awareness of the patient’s health and how to make it better.”

While cheap and free prescription medicines have been offered for several years, Spartan is the only one locally to provide 30-day supplies, Executive Vice President Alan Hartline said.  

“We think it’s differentiated from what you see in the marketplace,” Hartline said. “We believe it has much farther reach than other programs out there.

“We’re unique as a traditional supermarket operator in offering the $4 generic program and the number of drugs that’s applicable,” Hartline said. “Certainly we’re hopeful, as we lowered the price, that we can get some new customers that now can afford these prescriptions to come into our stores.”

Pharmacy represents about 18 percent of Spartan sales, Hartline said. “We think that department will continue to get focus with the aging of America,” he added.

Promoting a focus on the health of customers extends to food sales, Hartline said. He said he expects the $4 generics, now in 29 of Spartan’s 84 stores, will be expanded to the remainder. Spartan also is in the process of purchasing 17 supermarkets with 15 pharmacies in eastern Michigan.

“One of the things we’re trying to think differently about is how can we be part of a health and wellness solution on the front side and helping the customer live longer, happier lives with the food solution,” he added. “Certainly, we think the pharmacy is part of a solution, and an expectation of the customer as they visit a traditional supermarket is that they will offer pharmacy.”

Eddie Garcia, Spartan director of pharmacy, said he supported the idea of a program that offered a good value and allowed pharmacists to better monitor customers for drug interactions. He said the company considered the volume dispensed for each drug and chose some of the “most frequently prescribed maintenance medications.”

“We wanted a program that would drive them all to one location, preferably ours,” Garcia said. “We have a lot of customers, especially seniors, who take these medications. What we’re hearing at the pharmacist level is some of our patients are not taking their medications as they should. They’re skipping doses, they’re making them last as long as they can to save money. So this is an effort to get them on board, health-wise.”

Meijer’s new Be Well program with 4D customers across Michigan takes the health and wellness theme out of the store and into the workplace, said Nat Love, vice president, drug stores. Meijer has 185 stores in five states.

The Be Well program nets discounted co-pays, not just at Meijer, but at 60,000 pharmacies across the country for employees whose health insurance companies or employers use 4D to manage pharmacy benefits.

“We participate in other preferred networks, but they don’t have value-adds,” Love noted.

At Michigan Meijer stores, those members also get exclusive discounts on other pharmacy goods as well as other items, such as yoga mats or work-out clothes, Love said.

Taking the brand even farther, Meijer will send dieticians and pharmacists into 4D customer workplaces for services such as flu shots, smoking cessation classes, weight-loss seminars, blood tests and screenings.

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