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New store helps consumers keep ‘Free From’ allergies

BY Michael Johnsen

ORLAND PARK, Ill. —Attempting to fill the need of allergy-laden shoppers in search of “free-from” products, Peter DeRousse traded his collegiate cap and gown at DePaul University, where he was a professor of Greek and Latin, for a retail smock in early February to establish Free From Market, a clearing house for all products that appeal to customers who have allergies, or even specific dietary needs on account of such disease states as diabetes.

The store boasts a dedication to allergy- and gluten-free foods, including an assortment of organic and petroleum-free health and beauty products, pharmaceutical grade supplements, air purifiers, dust-mite repellant linens and chemical-free cleaners. So far, the allergen-free destination center occupies some 1,700 sq. ft. as part of a strip center, and carries an assortment of approximately 1,300 SKUs. That assortment consists of many smaller brands sourced primarily from the natural food channel; mass brands featuring such allergy relief as Zyrtec or Claritin are not yet part of the mix, DeRousse said, and probably won’t be until the potential volume of business ramps high enough to merit service from a mass-oriented wholesaler. “We [eventually] will carry a line of antihistamines, just because it’s a sort of convenient [product] that will fit with everything else in the store.”

DeRousse also is in search of labels that outline every ingredient found in a product—full disclosure, if you will—so that consumers with allergies are better able to find appropriate products. “Unless a manufacturer affirmatively prints every ingredient in plain language on [its] food, cleaner, supplement or cosmetic label, you are unlikely to find it here,” DeRousse explained. “Our policy requires full disclosure on the label, so we cannot offer many high-volume products found at health and gourmet food stores, which claim to be natural but which may be dangerous for people with allergies and restricted diets.”

DeRousse also is working on an online component, FreeFromMarket.com, that will extend his reach nationally beyond suburban Chicago. Shoppers can use a database that filters products by food allergies and which lists manufacturers’ precautions for reducing cross-contamination.

And while that database is available, the store is merchandised in more of a traditional fashion, category by category, as opposed to merchandising by allergy, or “free-from,” need.

The need for the concept was identified out of his own experience, DeRousse told Drug Store News. As a father of two daughters with multiple food and environmental allergies, DeRousse would spend his weekends hopscotching from store to store in search of that week’s groceries.

“[With Free From Market], we wanted to make a convenient place where people could find everything they needed, as well as many unique gluten-free brands,” DeRousse stated. “I care for two children with life-threatening allergies and gluten intolerance every day, so I’m very serious about helping people to avoid what ails them so they can attain optimum health.”

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Walgreens set to expand distribution capacity

BY Jim Frederick

WOBORN, Mass. Walgreens is expanding the distribution capacity at its Mt. Vernon, Ill.-based distribution center by adding more portable robotic picking devices and upgrading many of its traditional conveyor-based systems into automated zones for sortation and movement of items to be shipped.

Walgreens uses the Kiva Mobile Fulfillment System from Kiva Systems in Mt. Vernon to store inventory and pick replenishment orders for its 6,700 stores and specialty pharmacies. Expanding the system in that distribution center puts nearly 1,000 mobile robots under a single roof, according to Kiva.

The upgrade marks the third expansion of the robotic picking system at the center since its initial deployment in 2007, Kiva noted. It also heralds a doubling of the throughput capacity at the center, the company reports.

“Productivity metrics from previous rollouts far exceeded Walgreens’ specifications for pick rate, accuracy, cycle time, tote utilization and installation time,” said Kiva CEO Mick Mountz. “By doubling capacity we expect Walgreens to quickly achieve an extraordinary new level of strategic competitive advantage and productivity.”

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Congress takes up follow-on biologics bill

BY Drug Store News Team

The long-awaited breakthrough for follow-on biologics may be close at hand.

Prompted by a far more supportive President and the growing crisis in healthcare funding, Congress has again taken up the call for a bill that would create a regulatory pathway for FDA approval of generic versions of biologically-engineered drugs. And with the strong affirmation of President Obama, who has campaigned for such an approval pathway, the newest iteration of the bill stands a far better chance of passage than previous attempts in the House and Senate.

The Promoting Innovation and Access to Life-Saving Medicine Act could mark the most significant change to the delicate balance of power between the branded and generic drug industries since passage of the landmark Hatch/Waxman compromise bill in 1984, which ushered in the modern era of me-too medicines. Tellingly, one of the new bill’s sponsors is an architect of that 1984 legislation, Democratic Rep. Henry Waxman of California.

The push for follow-on biologics augers well for both health plan payers and patients coping with the sometimes staggering costs of critically important but expensive pioneer biologics, and for the generic drug industry itself as it faces a critical shortage of new marketing opportunities as the number of blockbuster drugs facing patent expirations dries up. A new pipeline of me-too biologics could help fill the gap.

“With countless patients struggling to pay the high costs of brand biopharmaceuticals, an approval pathway for safe, effective and affordable biogeneric medicines that provides access sooner rather than later is desperately needed,” stated Kathleen Jaeger, president and CEO, Generic Pharmaceutical Association.

Cost-saving considerations aside, there’s no disputing the business potential follow-on biologics represent. Bio-engineered pharmaceuticals and specialized, highly targeted medications aimed at serious chronic or life-threatening diseases represent the only major bright spot right now in the global pharmaceutical market, with growth rates that far outpace the sluggish market for mainline meds. Indeed, most of the drugs that have reached blockbuster status in recent years have been biologically engineered specialty meds.

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