Costco focuses on Rx as U.S. sales soar
Many analysts have voiced concern that despite numerous indications of a slow, but healthy, economic recovery in the United States, growth in the number of jobs has lagged, even as it has exceeded economists’ expectations.
But another indicator that the economy is picking up speed is U.S. sales growth at Costco Wholesale, the members-only mass merchandiser based in Issaquah, Wash. For fiscal 2010, sales at the company’s 424 U.S. stores — which the company officially calls warehouses — were $59.6 billion, compared with $56.5 billion in 2009.
Most of the company’s sales come from its famous bulk-sized packages of various consumer packaged goods and such products as furniture and food. But prescriptions at the pharmacies still accounted for a steady percentage of sales, at $1.5 billion, while nonprescription pharmacy items, like over-the-counter drugs, had sales of $1.7 billion.
The company also has ramped up online pharmacy retailing. “Costco continues to expand physical infrastructure and continues to make improvements to the online ordering experience for pharmacy customers,” Costco SVP pharmacy Vic Curtis told Drug Store News. “With mail-order, specialty and retail business growing nicely year over year, the further integration of e-commerce solutions is important for Costco members.”
Costco also has introduced such initiatives as the Costco Member Prescription Program for uninsured Americans and the Costco Pharmacy Benefit Partnership, a prescription benefit program. In addition, the retailer has plans to introduce such services as refill reminders and automatic refills.
“Even though we rate at or near the top in customer surveys, we think we can do even better,” Curtis said. “This not only includes the in-warehouse experience, but also with regard to making it easier to use Costco pharmacy online refills [and] pickup in warehouse, status check [and] pickup reminders.”
Safeway rebounds with sharper focus
After being hemmed in by recession, cash flow problems and costs, a venerable lion of West Coast food and drug retailing is roaring again.
Safeway shed a few more unprofitable stores in 2010 and early 2011, but emerged with sales and earnings results that help affirm its long-term strategy. The chain generated sales of $41.05 billion in the fiscal year ended Jan. 1, 2011, up less than half a percent from the previous year. But with a smaller, more productive store base and other improvements came a return to profitability; net income for fiscal 2010 was $589.8 million, compared with a net loss for 2009 of $1.1 billion.
Chairman, president and CEO Steve Burd cited “price reductions, reinvigorated private-label brands and targeted marketing” for the upturn, as well as new curbs on shrink and operating costs.
In the midst of a still difficult economy in 2010, Safeway also opened or remodeled another 74 stores in line with its Lifestyle prototype, which offers customers “wood-like flooring, relaxing earth-toned decor and subdued lighting with spotlights on featured products … [for] a warm, inviting ambience,” according to the company.
“Our … store renovations are almost complete, with 85% of our 1,694 locations now transformed into Lifestyle stores,” Burd reported Feb. 28.
Pleasanton, Calif.-based Safeway remains one of the nation’s top pharmacy retailers. Pharmacies operate in nearly 80% of its 1,694 supermarkets, giving it some 1,320 in-store pharmacies across a broad swath of the western and southwestern United States and in the Philadelphia market. That healthcare prowess is tied to a reputation as one of America’s top supermarket sources for organic and healthier-choice foods.
In April, Safeway took a big step to regaining full power in its pharmacy division with the hiring of pharmaceutical industry veteran Darren Singer as its new SVP pharmacy, health and wellness. The appointment fills a long-running management void that opened a full year earlier, when Dave Fong, Safeway’s top pharmacy executive, left the company as SVP pharmacy and family health. Fong’s position had been filled on an interim basis by Gary Rocheleau, but no permanent replacement had been named since Fong’s quiet departure in April 2010.
Singer, a 25-year veteran of GlaxoSmithKline, will regulate retail pharmacy operations, specialty care, pharmacy services, compliance, benefit management and managed care. He will report to merchandising president Kelly Griffith.
Singer, who among other roles at GSK was VP marketing for OTC wellness, could bolster Safeway’s ongoing efforts to marry pharmacy with health and nutrition. “His … proven track record in running some of the most visible and valuable brands in the pharmacy and wellness industry are well-suited to his leadership role,” Griffith said.
Safeway calls its pharmacists “experienced health consultants” who provide immunizations for whooping cough, tetanus and other conditions, along with the flu. Increasingly, the company is taking such health services as immunizations and health screenings outside the stores and into local businesses, schools, senior centers and other settings.
Safeway also is aligning those pharmacy care programs with a broader message designed to appeal to the total health-and-wellness needs of consumers. In mid-February, those efforts got another boost with the launch of SimpleNutrition, a shelf tag system designed to make it easier for shoppers to find better nutrition choices. Safeway called the new green tags “a first step in helping customers modify the selection of products that support a healthier lifestyle,” and said the tags point out one or more of 22 different nutrition and ingredient benefits for tagged items — e.g., organic, gluten-free or low-sodium products. Barbara Walker, group VP consumer communications and brand marketing, called it “a quick snapshot of the nutrition and ingredient benefits” of many foods.
Safeway also has broadened its nutritional message appeal with another branded line of healthier foods. Launched in late January, Open Nature is a new line of more than 100 naturally raised and unadulterated foods, beginning with products sold in the meat departments. The brand — which joins Safeway’s other healthy- alternative brands, O Organics and Eating Right — will expand to other food categories throughout 2011, the company reported.
RCEC to bring pharmacists, NPs together
ORLANDO, Fla. — Studies have indicated that the best people to get patients to adhere to their medication therapies are store pharmacists, while the second-best people are nurses. Thus, it’s only natural that getting nurses and pharmacists to collaborate will further improve adherence. The collaborative care track that The Drug Store News Group will introduce at the Retail Clinician Education Congress in August is a step in that direction.
Collaborative Care Day, which will take place on Aug. 2 at the Gaylord Palms in Orlando, Fla., will provide up to six dually accredited continuing education credits for pharmacists and nurse practitioners. The one-day track is a new addition to the annual RCEC, which will run Aug. 1 to 3 in line with National Convenient Care Clinic Week. The collaborative care track will include sessions with nurse practitioners and pharmacists on working together to improve health outcomes, common respiratory ailments, pediatric pharmacology, drug interactions — especially involving over-the-counter medications — hypertension and Type 2 diabetes.
“We know that pharmacists are essential providers in helping patients manage their drug regimens and drug-adherence protocols,” Drug Store News publisher Wayne Bennett said. “We also know that retail nurse practitioners provide the community with an important access point for not only treating minor illness and injuries, but also vaccinations and other health-condition monitoring services like high blood pressure, cholesterol, and diabetes screenings and assessments.”
Collaborative Care Association executive director Tine Hansen-Turton also is enthusiastic about the track. “We know the best health care in this country is provided by a team,” she said. “We are excited to introduce the collaborative care track at the Retail Clinician Education Congress, which is a hallmark of how health care will be provided in the future.”
Also new to RCEC 2011 is a special executive track featuring special sessions aimed at healthcare system executives and hospital administrators. The executive track sessions take place Aug. 1. The exhibit hall will be open all three days. For more details, drugstorenews.com/rcec-sponsorship-information.