Produce AND Prozac? Grocery Chains Go Proactive With Health

Here in my section of Brooklyn, where I have three supermarket choices (Key Food, Trader Joe’s and the small, local Dumbo Market), a grocery store is … well, a grocery store.  But across the country, grocery stores are also becoming pharmacies and healthcare providers, just as Walmart and other large retailers have done.

Take Kroger and Albertsons. Finalization of their $26.4 billion merger may still be a year away, but the combined entity increasingly looks like it will be a major health player as well as a mega grocery empire.

Both chains not only operate pharmacies in their stores, but have lately been launching new ventures into other healthcare areas.  Case in point: Just a couple of weeks after Kroger’s latest health expansion into clinical trials, Albertsons Companies has launched an online platform called Sincerely Health.

Available through 16 of its grocery store brand apps and websites -- including Albertsons, Safeway, Vons and Shaw’s -- Sincerely Health not only offers consumers such tools as prescription management and vaccine appointment scheduling, but also  “a connected and personalized view of their health across food, nutrition, activity, mental well-being and pharmacy services, enabling them to make more informed choices," according to a statement from Omer Gajial, chief digital officer and executive vice president health at Albertsons Cos.

Albertsons says that “the Sincerely Health experience begins with a brief questionnaire that measures a customer’s Health Score based on seven dimensions of well-being. The scores are calculated using actuarial science, considering varying lifestyle factors such as age, gender, nutrition, lifestyle choices and mental health.”

Sincerely Health users can link the service to such activity trackers as Apple Health, Fitbit and Google Fit, and then “set small achievable goals to improve their Health Score, track their progress and receive actionable insights and rewards for achieving those goals,” Albertsons adds.

Rewards include discounts on grocery purchases. And as an inducement to join the platform from their grocery store’s app or website, new users will first get $25 off grocery purchases.

Albertsons says Sincerely Health was built in collaboration with healthcare providers, insurance companies and technology organizations, with other insights gathered from more than 10,000 customers and associates.

Albertsons’ move comes as the lines between drug stores, supermarkets, mass market retailers and healthcare providers are blurred more than ever.

The COVID-19 pandemic helped to accelerate this trend, as pharmacists -- wherever they were housed -- became a primary provider of vaccines and boosters.

Indeed, a study from the IQVIA Institute for Human Data Science and the Global Healthy Living Foundation, as noted in The Hill, found that 90% of COVID-19 shots were administered at pharmacies between the first quarter of 2021 and the second quarter of 2022, with the rest being given at doctors’ offices or clinics.

That makes sense, since most people go to their pharmacies much more often than to their doctors.

Yet, since pharmacies around me have been offering flu shots for years, I didn’t think it was that big a deal that they’ve also been giving COVID shots.

It turns out, though, that in 25 states, this service has only been made possible due to the federal COVID emergency, which is now set to end in May.

As Kevin Ban, chief medical officer at Walgreens, and Robert Popovian, chief science policy officer at the Global Healthy Living Foundation, wrote in that Hill article, states should enact laws to “make it easier, not harder, for people to continue getting vaccinated at pharmacies.”

Or at your local grocery store.

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