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NewsBytes on CVS’ Merlo, Walmart health efforts, Michel now at Sears and more

BY DSN STAFF

WOONSOCKET, R.I. — The next chapter for CVS Caremark officially is under way. The company last month officially named Larry Merlo CEO, effective March 1. Tom Ryan will remain nonexecutive chairman until his retirement in May. Prior to the news, Merlo had been president and COO.


In related news, the company also pulled the plug on its plan to hire former Walmart exec Hank Mullany and has handed the keys to its retail business on an interim basis to Mike Bloom, EVP merchandising and supply chain, and Scott Baker, EVP internal operations and real estate. Bloom and Baker will report to Merlo while the company continues its search for a new president of its retail division.



WASHINGTON — Walmart executives joined First Lady Michelle Obama in Washington last month to unveil a comprehensive effort to provide Walmart customers with healthier and more affordable food choices. The program will involve five key elements:


  • Reformulating thousands of everyday packaged food items by 2015 by reducing sodium by 25% and added sugars by 10%, and by removing all remaining industrially produced trans fats;


  • Dramatically reducing or eliminating the price premium on key “better-for-you” items;


  • Developing strong criteria for simple front-of-package information;


  • Building more stores in underserved communities; and

  • 
Increasing charitable support for nutrition programs. 


WASHINGTON — Retailers are ready to expand again, and likely will do so as the economy picks up, according to a new survey conducted by the charitable arm of the National Retail Federation and KPMG. According to the report, 41% of executives are looking to expand their domestic reach in 2011, up from 25% last year. In addition, 75% of retailers said customer service will be a top priority (up from 56%), 69% will focus on mobile e-commerce and 74% will increase their consumer insight and data-gathering initiatives.



HOFFMAN ESTATES, Ill. — Robin Michel has been tapped for an increasingly critical role at retail giant Sears Holdings. Michel, who left as president of Ahold USA’s Giant-Landover in December 2010, will serve as SVP and president of food and consumables, health and beauty, and pharmacy at Sears and its Kmart subsidiary.



CHICAGO — Walgreens’ massive Customer Centric Retailing initiative is only beginning, president and CEO Greg Wasson told shareholders last month.


“To date, we’ve converted or opened [more than] 2,100 stores to the CCR format, and a little [more than] 28% of the chain,” Wasson said. “This time next year, we will have converted or opened approximately 5,500 [CCR] stores, which is about 73% of the chain.” 


In addition, the chain will look to offer “a Duane Reade-like beauty department” and expand its fresh food offering.


(Editor’s Note: The Feb. 28 edition of DSN will include a special, in-depth report on Walgreens.)

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Changing Channels: Dry-All smart-phone drying kit, ThinkEco modlet, BodyFit Yoga mat and more

BY DSN STAFF

Dry-All smart phone drying kit

LAS VEGAS — In general, electronic devices and water don’t mix, and smart phones are no exception. One bit of water is enough to lose important contacts, files and apps. Dry-All recently unveiled a kit at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas that allows users to dry a wet phone in as little as six hours using a special “blue bead” technology originally developed to protect sensitive military equipment from moisture. The suggested retail price is $59.99.

Contact: (888) 379-2551, Dry-All.com



ThinkEco modlet

NEW YORK — ­Much of the focus on alternative energy and clean technology in recent years has focused on such big-ticket items as windmills, solar panels and high-speed trains. But now consumers can save energy in their own homes with the ThinkEco “modlet,” short for “modern outlet.” The outlet saves energy by cutting power to plugged-in devices when they’re not needed and turning them back on based on historical usage patterns. A wireless connection and Web-based interface allow users to monitor and regulate their power usage. The suggested retail price is $50.

Contact: ThinkEcoInc.com



BodyFit Yoga mats
FAIRFIELD, N.J. — Venture Products supplies a line of yoga mats designed to provide stable and nonslip support for yoga, while also protecting against the growth of bacteria, mold and mildew. The mats, which are available in a number of colors with silk-screened designs, use a technology called Microban to prevent growth of microbes, which can cause odors and stains to develop. The suggested retail price is $14.99 for the 3-mm. mats, and $19.99 for the 6-mm. mats.

Contact: [email protected], Venture-Products.com



Bruttles soft peanut butter brittle

SPOKANE, Wash. — Bruttles Gourmet Candy Co. is taking its 60-year-old recipe for soft peanut butter brittle nationwide. Owner Carol Measel inherited the recipe from her aunt, and each batch is still hand-pulled on the marble slab she purchased from the Davenport Hotel in Spokane, Wash. Other candies include peanut brittle, cashew brittle, caramels, caramallows, bark and butter toffee. The peanut butter brittle comes in packages of 8 oz. to 2 lbs., ranging in price from $6.50 to $22.95.

Contact: Carol Measel, (888) 4-Bruttles, Bruttles.com



SilverSport fitness products

PITTSBURGH — Pittsburgh Steelers player and Hall of Famer Franco Harris and business partner Thomas Davis have launched a line of fitness products designed to fight odor-causing bacteria. The SilverSport line of products includes a sports towel, workout mat, roller-shaper and prenatal workout kit. The line is made with Terra Silver technology, which uses tiny silver particles to eliminate more than 650 types of surface-borne, odor-causing bacteria. The products range in price from $19.99 to $34.99 for the towel, $39.99 for the roller-shaper and $49.99 for the mat and prenatal workout kit. 

Contact: [email protected], SilverSport.com

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Zipnosis: Giant leap forward for retail health

BY Antoinette Alexander

ST. PAUL, Minn. — Convenient care industry pioneer Kevin Smith took a leap more than 10 years ago and helped create the successful nurse practitioner-staffed retail clinic concept. Today, the industry trailblazer is embarking on a new venture to further revolutionize access to health care. Enter Zipnosis.com.


“In a sense, it is doing triage. It’s almost functioning like an online advice source, and then it can also function as treatment, when it’s appropriate,” said Smith, who co-founded QuickMedx — now MinuteClinic. Prior to his current role as chief clinical officer of Zipnosis, Smith served as director of clinical informatics at MinuteClinic.


With patients increasingly turning to the Internet for medical information and the nation battling a physician shortage, Zipnosis — coupled with the evolving retail-based health clinics — may be the ideal prescription to help ease the overburdened U.S. healthcare system and move one step closer to consumer-oriented health care.


Furthermore, healthcare systems increasingly are looking for ways to respond to patients via e-communication, yet often lack effective tools. That’s a unique niche that Smith believes Zipnosis is ideally equipped to fill. In fact, Zipnosis teamed up in May 2010 with healthcare provider Park Nicollet Health Services in Minnesota and is looking to expand via partnerships with other health providers.


Zipnosis — which had about 1,800 patient visits since its May launch — is hoping to expand to 10 additional states by the end of 2011.


“As we move into accountable care organizations and the future of how healthcare reform is shaping up, I think more and more of these options will tease themselves out, and there will be opportunities for new ideas like this that fit into a [healthcare] system that really needs to be re-engineered,” noted Tine Hansen-Turton, executive director of the Convenient Care Association.


Unlike other telemedicine service providers, the Zipnosis interview process is asynchronous, meaning it is driven by a mediated form of communication in which the sender and receiver are not concurrently engaged in communication. How it works: The patient logs on to the Zipnosis site, answers a set of questions that mimic those that a healthcare provider would ask the patient and, based on the responses, goes to the next appropriate question. Once the patient completes the evaluation, a healthcare professional — a physician, nurse practitioner or physician assistant — receives a text message, and the patient receives a response within an hour with a recommendation.


Depending on the condition and the patient’s interview, there are three different outcomes:


The condition is determined to not be urgent and does not require a prescription, so a self-care recommendation is provided to the patient with detailed instructions on suggested OTCs, when to follow up with a physician and warning signs to look for;


If the patient meets the criteria for safe, appropriate online care, then he or she receives a recommendation from a clinician and, if necessary, a prescription is sent electronically to a pharmacy of the patient’s choice; or


The patient receives a referral — either automated or from a clinician — to visit a physician for further care. If the interview suggests a serious condition, the system immediately will notify the patient to visit a physician or urgent care facility, and he or she will not be charged a fee for using Zipnosis.


Like the early days of retail-based health clinics, the services offered by Zipnosis are limited to such minor, acute ailments as sinus infections, sore throats and bladder infections, as well as such conditions as acne and smoking cessation. Each “visit” is a flat fee of $25 paid via credit card or HSA/Health Savings Card. Patients can answer the set of questions anywhere, anytime using a computer, mobile phone or iPad. The same goes for healthcare professionals.


Smith, who has more than 25 years of healthcare experience, undoubtedly understands the importance of “appropriate” treatment, and stressed that Zipnosis uses evidence-based guidelines to ensure that treatment is safe and appropriate for online care. Patients can access their Zipnosis health record at any time and are encouraged to share it with their primary care provider.


With financial backing from private investors and a venture capital group, and a second round of funding in the works for second quarter 2011, Zipnosis clearly is on a growth path. “We are looking for additional provider partners [in other states], and we have had some physicians contact us and want to jump on board,” Smith said. “We really feel that for our provider partners there is an upside for using their marginal capacity to see more patients and to even conceivably draw patients to their practice.”

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