H-E-B: Linking clinical, nutritional goals


A pioneer in supermarket pharmacy retailing, H-E-B has been operating in-store pharmacies since the 1950s, when it opened its first full-scale supermarkets, some 50 years after founder Florence Butt opened the C.C. Butt Grocery Store in Kerrville, Texas, with a $60 initial investment. But over the past decade, the Texas-based supermarket and pharmacy powerhouse also has been at the forefront of the movement among supermarket pharmacy operators to expand their stores’ health-and-wellness outreach beyond the pharmacy and into the food aisles.

For H-E-B, that holistic appeal to the health and wellness of millions of Texas consumers has become a core operating principle. “H-E-B’s goal is to be known as a destination for health and wellness,” said Craig Norman, SVP pharmacy. “This involves integration within all areas of our stores.”

To that end, the company continues to explore the links between pharmacist-delivered patient care and the health benefits of sound nutrition and even exercise. At the pharmacy, that means offering an expanding menu of health services. “Our current professional service offerings … include our Second Saturday screening program, immunization program, specialty pharmacy and compounding, free flavoring, pet meds and home delivery [including prescriptions] in certain markets,” Norman told DSN.

In the food aisles, in its ads and on its website, it means educating millions of loyal customers on healthier eating choices, debunking health myths, providing cooking demonstrations and encouraging exercise, among other things. “H-E-B is the only retailer in Texas offering nutrition consultations by our registered dietitians covered by most major insurance plans, including Medicare and Medicaid,” the company reports. In addition, many stores offer tips on cardiovascular health, weight management, diabetes prevention and management, and the services available from H-E-B pharmacists at in-store “Solutions Centers.”

To drive home the message, H-E-B has created a 10-person regional team of nutritionists, dietitians and certified diabetes educators who oversee nutritional efforts and food offerings, promote healthier eating and dispense advice to customers via online and in-store counseling. The team also includes a physician, Marc Gillinov, M.D. Gillinov, who is surgical director of the Center for Atrial Fibrillation at Cleveland Clinic, provides online educational articles on heart health, vaccinations and other topics.

Pharmacists are also enlisted in the campaign for improved health among H-E-B’s customers beyond the pharmacy counter, in part through their frequent involvement with shoppers in the aisles of the “Keeping Texans Healthy” department of the stores near the pharmacy department. That storewide integration on behalf of healthier H-E-B shoppers “is ongoing,” Norman said. And it’s spurred in part by the nagging health challenges endemic to Texas, where the incidence of conditions like diabetes and hyperlipidemia are high.

H-E-B has built a strong health image with programs like “Second Saturday,” an ongoing program that provides free screenings for glucose, blood pressure and cholesterol on the second Saturday of every month. Its pharmacies also conduct quarterly A1C testing for diabetics to help them manage their conditions long-term, and a complete cholesterol blood test measuring HDL and LDL levels.

Community outreach efforts also remain embedded in the company’s culture, with education improvements and literacy high on its to-do list. H-E-B awards more than $600,000 a year in cash prizes to outstanding educators, and joined with the Houston Public Library last September to fund the launch of a new, electronically enabled MY Link Library Card. The card gives users free and easy access to more than 6 million books, e-books, CDs, DVDs, databases and other downloadable resources.

Meanwhile, expansion and chainwide modernization efforts continue with a number of new store openings, remodels and relocations on tap for 2017.

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