Striving to create a destination and customers for life
PHOENIX — Mark Panzer, senior vice president of pharmacy, health and wellness at Albertsons Cos., is leading his team and the industry in creating a singular destination for customers to take care of their health and wellness needs through their grocery and pharmacy stores. The goal is to raise the profile of the company’s health and wellness offerings by adding more services like in-store dietitians and clinics to its stores. In recognition of those efforts, the editors of MMR have named Panzer the publication’s Health and Wellness Merchant of the Year for 2016.
Panzer has seen the evolution of retail health and wellness offerings from a number of perspectives. His retail career began more than 40 years ago at Osco Drug, where he moved up through the ranks, eventually serving as district manager and director and later vice president of sales and marketing for American Drug Stores. He was appointed senior vice president of sales and marketing for Albertsons after its 1999 merger with American Stores.
In 2001, wanting to get back into operations, Panzer left to join Rite Aid Corp. as executive vice president of store operations, and in 2005 he was named the drug chain’s senior executive vice president and chief marketing officer. He then joined Pharmaca Integrative Pharmacy Inc. in 2008 as chief operating officer and was appointed chief executive officer in 2009. Rejoining the new Albertsons in May 2015 as senior vice president of pharmacy, health and wellness, he is now responsible for 1,760 pharmacies in 34 states. In February, Albertsons expanded Panzer’s duties, giving him responsibility for general merchandise and health and beauty aids.
The food/drug combination store format has evolved significantly during Panzer’s career. On the food side, he says, the emphasis has shifted from canned and frozen food to perishables, prepared food and meal replacement options. On the drug side, the biggest changes have been the move toward in-store clinics and the expansion of the pharmacist’s scope of practice to include such services as immunizations and medication therapy management.
“As the boards of pharmacies in each state allow our pharmacies to become more clinical in nature, to me it’s a win-win,” Panzer says. “The patient gets a convenient health care access point. And it’s a win for the pharmacist, who goes to school for seven years to get a Pharm.D. degree, which is not all about just pouring pills into a bottle. It’s about counseling, using those clinical skills and clinical knowledge to assist that patient in achieving the best possible health outcome.
Supermarkets are uniquely positioned to become true health and wellness destinations for busy consumers, Panzer says. “With a grocery format, we can actually offer a better pathway for consumers to improve their health or manage a disease state,” he says, “because in addition to everything we can offer in the pharmacy and with over-the-counter drugs, we can also help our customers address the diet and nutrition part of the equation. We can provide more of a total package in health and wellness than the typical drug store.”
As consumers are stretched in more and more directions, the convenience a grocery retailer can offer is another advantage.
“It’s just easier for someone to buy their groceries from someplace where they can bundle everything together — can get counseling from the pharmacist, get all their health and beauty care products, and also meet their family’s food needs for the week.”
Albertsons pharmacies are building on these advantages in a number of ways, including bolstering their in-store health and wellness expertise with the “Answers in the Aisles” program, where dietitians work in tandem with pharmacists to coach patients about the grocery side of the store and counsel them on their specific health and wellness needs. They also have programs that target particular diets and chronic issues, such as diabetes. Diabetes services for customers, for example, include store tours with dietitians, follow-up with pharmacists on how to balance diet and medications for healthy outcomes, and classes that give customers tools to manage their condition. A new pilot program, designed by the in-house dietitians and supported by pharmacists, helps diabetic and low-carb diet customers build meal plans, create grocery lists and make healthier daily decisions — all from their smartphone.
“A pharmacist knows about the needs of someone with diabetes,” Panzer says. “And they know about the needs of someone who is taking a specialty medication, or a maintenance medication like a statin, including what they should and should not eat. But they don’t have the time to walk with them through the grocery aisles. So if we have a dietitian on hand that can provide that service, and do some lifestyle coaching, then we have the ability to tie the whole store together from a health and wellness perspective.”
In-store clinics offer another opportunity to leverage the grocery store’s convenience, providing access points for health services at a time when consumers’ access to doctors is increasingly constrained. And because supermarkets are larger than drug stores, they can have larger clinics.
“Our Safeway wellness rooms are industry leading in terms of space and facilities,” Panzer says. “That, together with the number of customers who come into our stores each week, makes us a great partner for health care providers and an excellent access point for their patients.”
Albertsons has ramped up its clinic offerings in the past year, going from about 20 locations at the end of 2015 to more than 120 at the end of 2016. “We’ve added about 100 clinics and diagnostic centers in our stores in 2016, and we’ll probably come close to doubling or even tripling that in 2017,” Panzer says.
Albertsons and its chains are experimenting with different kinds of clinics, and it has partnered with companies to cater to different community needs. One partnership is with Lindora, a company that has opened weight management clinics in some West Coast stores and offers science-based weight loss coaching.
“Our approach really centers on our desire to create patients for life, and customers for life,” Panzer says. “And that means utilizing all the assets of the total store, including beauty care, over-the-counter sections, grocery and fresh food departments that can give the consumer the ability to make choices across the board to support a healthier lifestyle.”