FMI leaders stress health and wellness at annual meeting
LAS VEGAS Growing awareness of nutritional issues, wellness and preventive health among consumers has handed the supermarket industry a golden opportunity to build stronger ties to the U.S. population and a stronger business model, leaders of the Food Marketing Institute told members at the group’s annual meeting.
Held alongside the 2008 FMI Supermarket Pharmacy Conference, the food-store industry’s biggest annual gathering showcased the growing movement in healthier eating and wellness—and in the rapid integration of in-store supermarket pharmacies with the food offerings out front. That point was brought home in a series of speeches and seminars for both supermarket pharmacy and grocery executives, and on display among vendors on the massive trade floor of the Mandalay Bay Convention Center.
Leaders of both FMI and its growing pharmacy division stressed the opportunity for food- and combo-store retailers to capitalize on Americans’ rising clamor for healthier eating alternatives. Consumers are demanding both nutritional advice, said FMI president and chief executive officer Tim Hammonds, and pharmacists who can bridge the gap in the supermarket between medicinal counseling and nutritionally driven wellness programs.
“Health and wellness … is a space that supermarkets can own,” Hammond told members. “This is a great opportunity … connecting the dots between health and wellness.”
Supermarkets that contain in-store pharmacies, Hammonds added, also derive “a tremendous halo effect from the pharmacist being there.”
The current economic downturn can also spell opportunity for supermarket retailers, said Hammonds, who announced plans to retire after a successor is named, following 15 years as head of the organization. “Food retailers can turn these economic challenges into benefits for consumers and the industry,” he said. “As people eat out less often, we can help revive the great American home family meal tradition.”
FMI’s decision to hold its main industry gathering and its annual pharmacy conference side-by-side gave the industry’s pharmacy leaders a chance to review health and wellness options alongside their food-store counterparts. It also gave them the chance to meet with the organization’s first vice president of pharmacy services, Catherine Polley.
Polley joined FMI in September after a career with the National Association of Chain Drug Stores, the American Pharmacists Association and Kmart Corp. The group’s annual pharmacy powwow was her first chance to address supermarket pharmacy leaders at the event since being named to the new post.
Addressing supermarket pharmacy leaders, Polley stressed the need to integrate pharmacy and wellness with the nutritional advantages offered by supermarkets. She also recapped the top challenges facing food-store pharmacy, including shrinking Medicaid reimbursements and patient compliance.
Wal-Mart’s $4 generic program expanded again
BENTONVILLE, Ark. Wal-Mart’s $4 generic drug program was expanded on Monday to include new elements such as a 90-day, $10 option, several new women’s medicines and 1,000 nonprescription medicines priced at $4 or less.
This is the third time the program has been expanded since it was introduced in the fall of 2006. Since then, Wal-Mart contends, it has saved customers more than $1.1 billion and up to 95 percent of the prescriptions written in the majority of therapeutic categories now are included in the $4 prescription program. In addition, customers now can purchase a 90-day supply of 350 medicines for $10, a change Wal-Mart said gives customers an additional choice and saves them time and money.
Other changes include the addition of medicines such as a generic version of the osteoporosis drug Fosamax for $9 for a 30-day supply or $24 for a 90-day supply. In addition, medications to treat breast cancer (tamoxifen), menopause and hormone deficiency were added to the list of $9 medicines, a pricing tier that was added to the program in September 2007.
The other notable change to the program involved the inclusion of branded and private-label nonprescription drugs. More than 1,000 products, roughly one-third of the OTC drugs available at Wal-Mart and Neighborhood Market stores are available for $4.
“We’re succeeding in our efforts to deliver simple, affordable, quality pharmacy solutions for families struggling with the rising costs of health care,” said John Agwunobi, president of Wal-Mart’s health and wellness division.
Wal-Mart has promoted the $4 program extensively since its introduction via television commercials, print ads and signage throughout its stores to encourage customers to visit the pharmacy. In addition, the $4 program is frequently held up by Wal-Mart senior executives as an example of the retailer’s marketing slogan adopted last summer to help customers save money so they can live better.
IDSA agrees to re-examine chronic Lyme disease guidelines
HARTFORD, Conn. The Infectious Diseases Society of America has agreed to review its guidelines, which say there’s no evidence long-term antibiotics can cure “chronic” Lyme disease—or even that such a condition exists, according to the Washington Post.
The agreement, announced Thursday, calls for the doctors group to form a new panel of experts to review standards for treating Lyme disease. The IDSA says it agreed to the deal in part because the panel must be made up of doctors and scientists.
Lyme disease can be hard to diagnose with its vague, flu-like symptoms; the most obvious sign is its trademark round red rash. Usually, it’s easily cured with a few weeks of antibiotics. Those not promptly treated can develop arthritis, meningitis and other serious illnesses.
The IDSA says it’s never been proven whether these patients still have Lyme disease or something else. The group continues to defend its standards, which say short-term antibiotics are effective for nearly all patients. Long-term antibiotics are unproven and potentially dangerous, because overuse of the drugs can lead to drug-resistant infections, the society says.
“We are confident that our guidelines for the diagnosis and treatment of Lyme disease represent the best advice that medicine currently has to offer … and we look forward to the opportunity to put to rest any questions about them,” said Donald Poretz, the society’s president.
The society will consider a variety of scientific evidence and determine whether the 2006 guidelines are justified or need revision.
The guidelines are important because they discourage adequate treatment, advocates of chronic Lyme sufferers say. Perhaps just as significant is that insurance companies refuse to pay for long-term antibiotics to treat chronic Lyme disease because they follow the panel’s guidelines.
The doctors group makes clear that current guidance for treating Lyme disease remains in place.