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Raising the profile of retail health initiatives

Columnist David Orgel examines how the health topic is being spotlighted by retailers in broader ways than during the pandemic.
David Orgel
Principal, David Orgel Consulting

The evidence is piling up — from Walgreens to Hy-Vee and from Kroger to Dollar General.

The health topic is being spotlighted by retailers in broader ways than during the pandemic — when much of the focus was on communications related to COVID-19 and safety. Now, in this unique period between the pandemic and the emergence of a new normal, we’re seeing more retailer communications about a wider range of health efforts. This is a good development for retailers and consumers, as long as retailers keep adapting their initiatives and communications to the changing landscape and new consumer needs.

Driving Partnerships
One indication of how retailers are communicating health initiatives is the recent effort by Walgreens Boots Alliance and Walgreens to spotlight health-focused partnerships as described in a July 2 DSN article. Those partnerships include one with pharmacy automation provider iA that is helping to modernize operations using centralized pharmacy fulfillment centers — freeing up pharmacists for other activities. Another partnership (with VillageMD) is increasing the number of co-located clinics at Walgreens.

“There are tremendous opportunities in health care right now, and we are uniquely positioned to capitalize on them,” said WBA CEO Rosalind Brewer.

Spotlighting Events
For some retailers, the waning of the pandemic has enabled a return to higher-profile, in-person health initiatives. Kroger put its annual outdoor health festival on hold last year due to COVID-19. Called The Wellness Experience, the event will be back this year on Aug. 20 and 21 in Cincinnati. The festival includes live music, celebrity-led workouts and cooking demos, mental wellness discussions, beauty demos, a food expo, and family-friendly activities.

Colleen Lindholz, president of Kroger Health, summed up the benefits this way: “It is more important than ever to foster empathy and open dialogue around our well-being, including physical, mental and emotional health.”

Unveiling Formats
The health topic is playing a role in new physical store formats. California-based grocer Raley’s is launching units of its new health-focused format called O-N-E.

This store’s focus is on providing organic and healthy products, including minimally processed and sustainably sourced.

Not that a retailer must unveil a new format to add new fuel to its health efforts. Earlier this year, for example, CVS Pharmacy refreshed its assortments in some stores by adding new better-for-you frozen items and snacks.

Embracing Hybrid
The jury is still out on the future balance of in-store versus online retailer health programs. Many retailers pivoted some efforts to virtual during the pandemic, and some of this will continue.

Hy-Vee’s registered dietitians leveraged virtual programming in July for education about fertility, prenatal and postnatal nutrition, and foods for infants. The online programming included cooking classes, store tours and live Q&As.

Advancing Health
As retailers fine-tune health initiatives, some are recognizing the need to raise their overall health strategies. A case in point is Dollar General, which is advancing its healthcare offerings and hired its first chief medical officer. The strategy is aimed at accelerating affordable healthcare offerings for customers, especially in the retailer’s rural communities, said CEO Todd Vasos.

The upshot of all these retail efforts is that health is being spotlighted more broadly and will likely play out across channels and platforms in more ways. Retailers will need to figure out exactly how to navigate in this shifting landscape. There’s a lot of upside for retailers, as long as health approaches accurately reflect quickly evolving consumer preferences and behaviors.

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