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Should pharmacy retailers get into food game? Signs point to 'yes'

WHAT IT MEANS AND WHY IT'S IMPORTANT — Economic troubles and an interest in saving money are just two of the growing number of reasons why it behooves nontraditional retailers to start thinking about offering fresh food in their stores, especially pharmacy retailers.

(THE NEWS: Food trips to nontraditional stores — mass, dollar, drug — on rise. For the full story, click here)

With their relatively small size and position as centers of health care, pharmacy retailers have a great opportunity to capture traffic from customers looking to eat well and do so without having to spend a bundle of money. Food deserts, an issue closely related to such diet-related health problems as obesity, are another reason: According to the Department of Agriculture, close to 6 million Americans live at least half a mile away from a supermarket and lack access to a vehicle, while more than 20 million live in low-income areas more than one mile from a supermarket.

Walgreens is one chain that has made a huge effort to address the food desert problem; in one “food oasis” store in Chicago, 40% of retail space is devoted to food. Though not located in a food desert per se, Duane Reade’s new flagship store on Wall Street offers a glimpse of the possibilities for pharmacy retailers, offering everything from fresh fruit to sushi made on location to sandwiches from a local up-market sandwich shop. Rite Aid’s Wellness format stores devote significant shelf space to gluten free and organic packaged foods, not to mention its co-branded Rite Aid/Save-A-Lot stores, while CVS’ “Urban Cluster” stores have large food sections.

A number of mass merchandisers have expanded small-format stores as well. Walmart has built Walmart Express stores in Chicago’s food desert neighborhoods, while Target has expanded its PFresh stores and offers groceries at its CityTarget locations, as well as in-store Pret A Manger cafes selling soups, sandwiches and salads.

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