Getting D.C.’s attention

Drug Store News speaks with Brian Dowling, VP public affairs at Safeway.

Drug Store News: Are some of the solutions put forth by Safeway chairman and CEO Steve Burd and the Coalition for Health Care Reform finding traction in Washington?

Brian Dowling: Yes. The growth in membership since the coalition’s inception has been significant. And clearly in Washington there’s been growing awareness of the Safeway experience. What Steve is focused on when he’s in Washington is sharing what we’ve done, and showing that this has a broader application in healthcare reform. If there was a widespread adoption…by the healthcare system generally, I think there could be massive savings.

On the one hand, you’ve got President Obama talking about the Safeway experience. And you’ve got senators almost routinely talking about…the so-called “Safeway Amendment” to the Senate Finance Committee [health-reform] bill, [which] shows there’s clearly been collaboration with the leaders in the Senate.

What Steve talks to is that over the last four years, we’ve been able to “flatline” healthcare costs, not just for the company but for the employee as well. And at the same time improve the quality of service.

DrSN: Could the company’s health-and-wellness program for employees serve as a recruiting tool?

Dowling: Absolutely. If you [the employee], do these things right and you’re able to pass some fairly basic standards, you get pretty significantly discounted health care. And that’s absolutely a recruiting tool.

DrSN: How have customers taken to programs that emphasize healthy eating and prevention, like Food Flex?

Dowling: If you look at Food Flex and what we’re doing with Eating Right and O Organics, all of that flows from the much greater interest from our customers on health and wellness over the last several years. And that’s translating into the product mix in our stores in fairly significant ways.

DrSN: Safeway has been developing a smaller format. Where is that program at?

Dowling: We have one in Long Beach and one in San Jose, [Calif.] They’re…still very much in test phase. At this point, we’re simply calling it The Market. The stores are around 24,000 sq. ft.… We operate through a broad range of formats in different markets. We’ve got small stores in Chicago, San Francisco and Washington, D.C.

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