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Volume 43 No. 10


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Vol. 43 No. 10 DrugStoreNews.com

FEATURES 10 Industry News 20 Products to Watch 22 ClearCut Analytics Insights

Numbers on how shampoo and conditioner products are faring on Amazon

34 CBD News 38 Cover Story: Walgreens is DSN ’s Retailer of the Year

Executives talk to DSN about how the retailer has strengthened its offering with investments in ominchannel and digital throughout the pandemic

50 Reimbursement Pressure DIR fees take on increased focus as uncertain reimbursements threaten pharmacies’ bottom lines

COLUMNS 8 Editor’s Note 24 One-on-One

38 54

with Total Resources International’s Geolyn Gonzalez with Betterbrand’s Chris Jackson


28 Counter Talk By Mack Elevation’s Dan Mack

72 Cough-Cold and Flu

30 Counter Talk 32 Counter Talk By Numerof & Associates’ Michael Abrams

60 Tech & Automation Empower Pharmacists With script volume up and pharmacists’ workload always increasing, pharmacies turn to tech and automation to keep pharmacists helping patients

26 One-on-One

By IRI’s Mindy Albuck


INSIDE BEAUTY 54 Women-Led Brands Roundtable

82 Last Word By David Orgel Consulting’s David Orgel

Women at the helm of beauty brands opine on the state of the beauty business in this virtual roundtable

After a soft flu season in 2020, the category is poised for a comeback this year

78 Sexual Wellness With consumers opening their minds, they also are opening their wallets to new offerings they’re seeing in the growing sexual wellness space

60 SOCIAL Facebook.com/ DrugStoreNews Twitter.com/ DrugStoreNews

DSN (ISSN 0191-7587) is published monthly 12 times a year by EnsembleIQ, 8550 W. Bryn Mawr Ave, Suite 200, Chicago, IL 60631. Subscription rate in the United States: $125 one year; $230 two year; $14 single issue copy; Canada and Mexico: $150 one year; $270 two year; $16 single issue copy; Foreign: $170 one year; $325 two year; $16 single issue copy. Periodicals postage paid at Chicago, IL, and additional mailing offices. POSTMASTER: Please send address changes to DSN, 8550 W. Bryn Mawr Ave, Suite 200, Chicago, IL 60631. Vol. 43 No. 10, October 2021. Copyright © 2021 by EnsembleIQ. All rights reserved.



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Female Rising How will women shape the future of the pharmacy? By Nigel F. Maynard

An EnsembleIQ Publication 8550 W. Bryn Mawr Ave, Suite 200, Chicago, IL 60631 Senior Vice President, Publisher John Kenlon (516) 650-2064, jkenlon@ensembleiq.com Editor-in-Chief | Editorial Director Nigel F. Maynard nigelmaynard@ensembleiq.com


ccording to the U.S. Census, the population of the nation was estimated to be around 330 million in 2020, and women accounted for approximately 51.1%. This number mean a couple of things for your business: Women represent more than half of your potential customers so ignore them at your peril. it also means that brands have a large pool of potential job applicants to mine for the foreseeable future. The Pew Research Center says that 43% of millennial Nigel F. Maynard women aged 25 to 37 years old have at least a bachelor’s Editor-in-Chief | degree, compared with 36% of men aged 25 to 37 years old. Editorial Director This may explain what’s been happening in retail pharmacy of late. Not only are the three biggest retail pharmacy brands helmed by women, but other companies like Target, Bluemercury and Alikay Naturals have female leaders as well. It’s clear that women are becoming a force on the business side of our industry, and that trend is likely to continue. Female demographic numbers come into sharp focus for us this month. Earlier in October, we held our third annual Top Women in Health, Wellness & Beauty event to recognize women who are making a difference in the mass retail industry. And recently, we kicked off a new research initiative with a consumer panel made up of young women. Because women will be a key customer demographic for retail pharmacy, we felt that it was important to know what’s on their minds, so we assembled a panel of female consumers ranging in age from 24 to 30 years old. I spent some time having a candid conversation with the young women, asking them about their experiences with retail pharmacy, their likes and dislikes, and what they would like the pharmacy of the future to look like. What they told us was very illuminating. All the women use retail pharmacies at least a couple of times per month for general items on the front end and to fill prescriptions. The women generally had positive experiences with retail pharmacies, but they agreed that stores could use some updates, such as cooler brands, collaborations with influencers, better packaging, hipper store designs and curated “recommendations.” Some of the women were not even aware that retail pharmacies offered an e-commerce component. I also learned two illuminating things from my conversation with the young women: Amazon plays a huge role in their lives and design is important. Like many consumers, the women admire Amazon’s robust website, efficiency and its recommendations based on site visits. And Target, with its attention to product and store design, and the store’s offering of cool brands in modern packaging, is a hit with this demographic. It’s clear that retail pharmacy is viewed favorably among young women, but there is some work to do to attract more store visits from them. The good news, though, is that with so many women making strides in the industry, this might be easier to accomplish. All you have to do is ask them and listen. dsn


EDITORIAL Managing Editor David Salazar (212) 756-5114, dsalazar@ensembleiq.com Senior Editor Sandra Levy (845) 893-9573, slevy@ensembleiq.com Desk Editor Maria Manliclic (212) 756-5093, mmanliclic@ensembleiq.com Online Editor Gisselle Gaitan (212) 756-5138, ggaitan@ensembleiq.com SALES & BUSINESS Northeast Manager Alex Tomas (212) 756-5155, atomas@ensembleiq.com Regional Manager Steven Werner (312) 961-7162 swerner@ensembleiq.com Production Manager Jackie Batson (224) 632-8183, jbatson@ensembleiq.com PROJECT MANAGEMENT/PRODUCTION/ART Vice President, Production Derek Estey (877) 687-7321 x 1004, destey@ensembleiq.com Creative Director Colette Magliaro cmagliaro@ensembleiq.com AUDIENCE LIST RENTAL MeritDirect Marie Briganti 914-309-3378 SUBSCRIBER SERVICES/CUSTOMER CARE TOLL-FREE: 1-877-687-7321 FAX: 1-888-520-3608 contact@drugstorenews.com REPRINTS & PERMISSIONS Reprints, permissions and licensing, please contact Wright’s Media at ensembleiq@wrightsmedia.com or (877) 652-5295.

CORPORATE OFFICERS Chief Executive Officer Jennifer Litterick Chief Financial Officer Jane Volland Chief Innovation Officer Tanner Van Dusen Chief Human Resources Officer Ann Jadown Executive Vice President, Events & Conferences Ed Several Senior Vice President, Content Joe Territo


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Sundown Kids Features ImmuneSupport Products

Hershey’s Gets in the Holiday Spirit with New Treats Hershey’s is previewing several of its holiday-themed products well ahead of the season. For this year’s seasonal treats, the company said it drew inspiration from classic holiday sweets and transformed them into candies from its iconic brands, including Reese’s and Kit Kat. “The holidays are a time to create new special memories, so we wanted to make sure your season is sweet in a big way with your favorite flavors, fun holiday shapes and new ways to enjoy the treats and tastes you love,” said Melissa Blette, senior associate brand manager of the Hershey holiday team. Available for a limited time, new Reese’s launches include: • Peanut Brittle Flavored Cups, a peanut brittle-flavored crème wrapped around crunchy peanut butter; • Snack Size Trees Giant Gift Box, a 15-in. gift box filled with snack-sized trees; • Snack Size Trees 4-Pack, a pack of four snack-sized treats; and • Peanut Butter Cups Yardstick, a super-sized pack that contains 18 full-sized Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup packs. New innovations from Hershey’s include: • Kisses Milk Chocolates with Grinch Foils, featuring 10 different candy foils, each with the Grinch’s signature smirk and his pup Max; • Kisses Milk Chocolates with Grinch Foils Cane, containing Hershey’s Kisses with various Grinch foils; and • Sugar Cookie Flavored Bar, showcasing sugar cookie-flavored white crème and cookie pieces. Kit Kat’s holiday exclusive is Gingerbread Cookie Flavored Miniatures, which contain its classic crispy wafers combined with gingerbread-flavored crème. York Peppermint Pattie is rolling out Peppermint Pattie Snowflakes, which feature snowflake-shaped treats wrapped in dark chocolate. While the Whoppers brand is debuting its Snowballs Theater Box, which has malted milk balls wrapped in a vanilla-flavored crème.


The Bountiful Company’s Sundown brand is growing its immunity offerings for children with its latest products — Sundown Kids Vitamin C Gummies and Sundown Kids Vitamin D3 Gummies. The company said the new gummies respond to growing demand for immunesupport offerings from consumers. A MarketPlace survey from August 2020 found that immune health is a key reason people purchase supplements, with 54% focused on vitamin D and 53% focused on vitamin C. “Proactive care and wellness for adults and kids is at an all-time high. And as parents ourselves, we understand how important it is to keep our little ones healthy,” said Aileen Stocks, president of wellness brands at The Bountiful Company. “We’re focused on creating new ways for people to live healthier lives and make the most of each and every day — no matter how old — and this launch showcases our commitment to children. It marries immune health with clean vitamins — only the best for youngsters.” The orange-flavored vitamin C gummies are formulated to help maintain strong joints, gums and heart health, while the D3 gummies target immune health and strong bones and teeth. Sundown Kids’ immunity products are available at CVS Pharmacy nationwide, as well as on Amazon.com.


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Cetaphil Revamps Formulas, Product Packaging Cetaphil is upping its commitment to caring for sensitive skin by updating its formulas. The Fort Worth, Texas-based skin care brand announced new and improved product formulations that advance the science behind them, with such dermatologist-backed ingredients as niacinamide, panthenol and glycerin to improve the overall resilience of skin, the company said. “In order to meet the needs of today’s consumer while also delivering on our commitment to innovation, we made the decision to upgrade some of our original products, most of which haven’t changed since they were first brought to market,” said June Risser, vice president and general manager of consumer business at Galderma. “It’s important that we are not only meeting — but exceeding — the current standards that our consumers expect from a sensitive skin care brand, and we believe our new and improved formulas will allow us to do just that.” Reformulated products include Gentle Skin Cleanser, Daily Facial Cleanser, Moisturizing Cream, Moisturizing Lotion and

Advanced Relief Lotion, which now feature a cleanser formula to cater to sensitive skin. In addition, the products contain a proprietary blend of hydrating and skin-strengthening ingredients that look to defend against five signs of skin sensitivity, including irritation, roughness, tightness, dryness and a weakened skin barrier, the company said. To accompany these new formulations, Cetaphil also is unveiling a new look for its products, which consists of an updated logo and sleeker, modern packaging that features color coding for specified skin types.



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Red Bull Adds Limited Winter Edition Pomegranate Beverage Red Bull is embracing a new flavor with its latest limited edition seasonal offering, Winter Edition Pomegranate. The Santa Monica, Calif.-based company’s new beverage, which features notes of pomegranate, sour cherry and red berries, was made to be enjoyed on its own or mixed into a mocktail. The energy drink includes caffeine, B-group vitamins, sugars and taurine. Available in 8.4-fl.-oz. and 12-fl.-oz. crimson-colored cans, Red Bull Winter Edition Pomegranate is now available at select retailers, including 7-Eleven. Red Bull will expand the beverage’s distribution to additional retailers, beginning Nov. 4, for a limited time.

CosPro Agency Rebrands as CosProXM

Scynexis Releases Brexafemme

CosPro Agency, which is part of the CosPro Marketing family, announced its rebrand as CosProXM and the expansion of its services to include live market and brand activations, the company said. The organization will also now be led by Dan Reyes, a 20-year veteran in market activation. “I am thrilled to join CosPro Marketing with all their inhouse abilities. They have a ton more tools than larger activation agencies, who outsource most of their labor and creative services,” Reyes said. “I love being in experiential marketing because the results are powerfully obvious. After a live activation, 98% of consumers are more likely to make a purchase as well as capture and share content of these events on social media — all helping build brand loyalty and brand recognition.” The agency will continue to provide in-store shopper events and target marketing sampling programs, as well as expand its services to now offer pop-up stores, mobile [experimental] tours, sports and entertainment product placement, and culinary and beverage events, the company said. “This expansion makes great sense when you consider the depth and breadth of our capabilities. Besides being a leader in product sampling, we have 8,000 brand ambassadors nationwide, plus a dedicated in-house creative and fulfillment team,” said CosPro Marketing CEO Joann Marks. “These assets allow us to provide quicker turnaround and more attention to detail, resulting in more value and higher ROI for a client’s marketing budget.”

Scynexis is introducing Brexafemme (ibrexafungerp tablets), the first and only oral non-azole prescription medication approved by the Food and Drug Administration to treat vulvovaginal candidiasis, commonly referred to as vaginal yeast infection. “It’s incredibly exciting for all of us at Scynexis to bring this innovative antifungal treatment to the millions of women across the country who suffer from yeast infections,” said Marco Taglietti, president and CEO of Scynexis. “This approval is just the first step to potentially building a wide-ranging ibrexafungerp antifungal franchise in multiple indications for broad patient community infections and in the hospital setting for life-threatening invasive fungal infections.” Brexafemme, a one-day oral medication — two pills taken in the morning and two in the evening — is the first new antifungal class in more than 20 years, the company said. “Despite the fact that vaginal yeast infections are extremely common with about 3 out of 4 women experiencing them at least once in their life, until now there had been limited advancement in this area of women’s health for decades,” said Christine Coyne, Scynexis chief commercial officer. “Brexafemme is a truly new, first-in-class fungicidal triterpenoid antifungal, designed to kill the yeast causing the infection, including azole-resistant strains.”



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Hallmark Launches Little World Changers Collection really matters — kindness,” said Lindsey Roy, chief marketing officer of Hallmark. “We hope this new collection inspires people to slow down and thank kids for their acts of kindness, while showing them how much of a positive impact their actions have on themselves and the recipient.” As part of the launch, Hallmark will give away 1 million cards from the new line, which can be requested online for free. In addition, the brand is releasing the Little World Changers Kindness Jar: 52 Ways to Share Kindness, which contains 52 printed notes with suggestions for ways to share kindness and care, and The Power of Being You Book with Medal.

Hallmark is highlighting the importance of character traits like kindness, courage, community and being true to oneself with a new assortment of greeting cards. The Little World Changers line from the Kansas City, Mo.-based company aims to help children understand big issues on a personal level and encourage them to also share kindness and support with others. The collection includes standard-sized cards, mini-cards and a 24-piece mini-card tin. “For the past 110 years, Hallmark has helped people put more care in the world, and we believe it’s important to teach the current and next generation of Little World Changers about what

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Chike, Hydrant Top Buyers’ Picks at ECRM VMS Program Chike Nutrition won the Drug Store News/ECRM Buyers’ Choice Award for its Vanilla Iced Coffee at ECRM’s Vitamin, Weight Management & Sports Nutrition Program held in September. Hydrant was a finalist for its Hydration Mix + Caffeine. Chike Nutrition, based in Abilene, Texas crafts functional, “better-for-you” products meant to improve health and wellness. It aims to prove that consumers don’t have to sacrifice great taste when seeking to make healthier nutritional choices. The company’s Protein Iced Coffee is low in calories, gluten-free, and has no artificial flavors or colors. Each serving contains 20 g of non-GMO whey protein, two shots of real espresso coffee (150 mg caffeine) and 1 g of sugar. Its vanilla flavor was made to be a healthy twist on a classic espresso drink. Hydrant’s products use the power of hydration as a functional foundation and include additional ingredients like caffeine or vitamins to supercharge wellness routines. Each product is designed to hydrate you faster than water alone, the company said. Its Energy product is a precise blend of balanced electrolytes, 100 mg of caffeine from green tea and 200 mg of L-theanine for smooth, jitter-free energy. It’s made with real fruit juice powder and contains no synthetic colors, artificial sweeteners or stevia.


One Brands Intros Seasonal Marshmallow Hot Cocoa Bar One Brands gets warm and cozy ahead of the winter season with the launch of its latest limited-edition seasonal flavor — marshmallow hot cocoa bar. Made with gluten-free ingredients, the bar features 20 g of protein, 1 g of sugar per serving, and a smooth and creamy texture with notes of cocoa, the company said. “We wanted to create another flavor like our seasonal (and extremely popular) pumpkin pie bar that people could really cozy up to during the holidays — and our marshmallow hot cocoa bar has that same seasonal magic,” said Eric Clawson, One Brand chief operating officer. “This new limited variety delivers on the indulgent flavors of your favorite holiday drink, hot cocoa with marshmallows, but is guilt-free and convenient for any time of day.” One Brand’s marshmallow hot cocoa bars are available for a limited time at such retailers as Publix, Kroger, The Vitamin Shoppe and Wegmans.


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New and Noteworthy HRG’s five picks from September


changing of the seasons did not slow down product innovation from CPG companies. As the summer ended and fall began in September, companies introduced 169 new products, comprising 31 health items, 59 wellness products and 78 beauty offerings. HRG’s new product team sifted through all of them and found five that have potential to be big sellers based on their innovativeness and ability to deliver on unmet needs.


Nexcare Tegaderm + Pad Transparent Dressing


Vazalore Liquid-filled Aspirin Capsules, 81 mg

The latest from 3M’s Nexcare brand is a low-profile film dressing designed to completely shield incisions and wounds from dirt, water and germs while still allowing them to breathe. Made to be flexible and comfortable, the dressings can be worn up to a week and throughout showering and bathing. Vazalore manufacturer PLx Pharma claims that the brand offers the first and only liquid-filled aspirin capsule on the market. Designed to protect the stomach while delivering fast absorption, the product offers pain relief and fever reduction, as well as a dosing option for consumers whose doctors recommend low-dose aspirin therapy.



Vicks Sinex Moisturizing Saline Spray with Aloe


Alocane Maximum Strength First Aid Antiseptic Spray


Blue Lizard Sunscreen Sheer Face Lotion SPF 50+

P&G is adding to the nasal care products from its Vicks brand with Vicks Sinex Moisturizing Saline Spray. The product offers drug-free relief from congestion and contains aloe to hydrate and soothe nasal passages. The ultra-fine mist provides better dosage control. Quest Products is rolling out a 4% lidocaine spray with Alocane Maximum Strength spray. Designed for continuous spray at any angle, the product offers no-touch application with an alcoholfree formulation that can kill 99% of germs and pain-free wound cleaning. The company said the bottle allows for 100% product emptying.

Blue Lizard’s new mineral-based sunscreen product aims to deliver sun protection that rubs in smooth and dries clear while nourishing skin. Free of parabens, fragrances, oxybenzone and octinoxate, the Blue Lizard Sunscreen Sheer Face Lotion offers broad-spectrum SPF 50+ sun protection, alongside a blend of hydrating elements that include hyaluronic acid, shea butter, antioxidants and vitamin E. dsn


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Amazon Insights ClearCut Analytics breaks down shampoo and conditioner trends Insights powered by ClearCut Analytics


hich products are excelling in e-commerce? Chicagobased analytics provider ClearCut, which examines e-commerce and Amazon sales analytics to identify emerging trends, recently took a look at the shampoo and conditioner subcategory within hair care and how the products are performing on Amazon. According to ClearCut’s analysis, shampoo and conditioner have seen a 48% year-over-year growth rate on Amazon as of July. While the analysis noted this is largely due to the pandemic pushing shoppers online, it still shows the subcategory at a higher baseline than in previous years. Among products, shampoo has 46% market share, with conditioner following behind at 29%. While 2-in-1 products only make up 5%


market share, that particular product group is growing at a rate of 56% year over year as of July — well outpacing the rest of the category. On Amazon, top brands include Biolage, Redken, Paul Mitchell, Olaplex and Nioxin. Shampoo and conditioner is a fairly diversified category, with more than 170 brands that have annual sales exceeding $1 million. The top 10 brands only make up 27% market share on the online retailer. With regard to the ever-popular shift to natural products, natural shampoos make up 37% of that segment, with conditioners making up another 27%. In natural, as in the overall category, growth in sales of 2-in-1 products is outpacing that of other products. To learn more about ClearCut Analytics’ insights, contact insights@clearcutanalytics.com. dsn











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At the Ready TRI’s first aid and emergency preparedness products aim to help consumers take charge of their health


ince its founding 1991, family- and minority-owned Total Resources International has become a leading manufacturer of first aid and emergency preparedness items. Drug Store News caught up with Geolyn Gonzalez, vice president of sales and marketing, at the Walnut, Calif.-based company to discuss its growth, its brands and what it sees as the future of first aid and emergency preparedness. Drug Store News: Tell us a bit about some of the brands TRI sells. Geolyn Gonzalez: Under the brand Be Smart Get Prepared, we span across multiple retail categories: HBC, outdoors, auto, industrial, emergency survival and B-to-B/B-to-C e-commerce. We design with the consumer in mind, curating a product selection full of innovation, insight and style. Our goal is to deliver comprehensive kits at the most competitive prices. For over 25 years, we have been servicing the world’s largest retailers — Sam’s Club, Walmart, Amazon, O’Reilly, Kroger, Menards, Big Lots, 99 Cents Only and many more. In 2018, we launched the SILVEX brand in more than 2,000 Walmart stores, and now SILVEX is sold in over 6,000 stores at Walmart, Kroger, Smart & Final and Amazon. We work hard to educate the consumers on the benefits of nano silver technology and why it’s highly effective. In 1996, TRI owners George and Merlyn Rivera had a vision and established a nonprofit organization called Vision HimPossible. A portion of the proceeds from our products are used to build schools, feed the hungry, shelter the homeless, assist orphanages and fund orthopedic surgeries for children in the Philippines, Mexico and more. In 2018, we launched our social responsibility initiative, Every Kit Cares. As a faith-based company, we’ve given back for 25 years and encourage our partners to catch the vision and join our mission.


Geolyn Gonzalez, vice president of sales and marketing, Total Resources International

“The emergence of e-commerce has made first aid more accessible for consumers who prefer to ... treat injuries at home.” DSN: A lot of your brands are focused on preparedness and first aid — two areas that have grown during the pandemic. What are some of your most popular preparedness-focused products and how do they meet consumer demands? GG: The global pandemic created a surge in demand for first aid, shifting consumer shopping behavior. We’re learning that consumers want products with clear, defined benefits to complement their lifestyle. Strict regulations ensuring employee safety has created a higher demand for first aid in the workplace. The rise in demand is also a result of the influx of injuries on site. Be Smart Get Prepared 351-piece ANSI/ISEA First Aid Kit is

our best seller and can be found at Sam’s Club. The emergence of e-commerce has made first aid more accessible for consumers who prefer to self-medicate and treat injuries at home. Be Smart Get Prepared 100-piece First Aid Kit is an Amazon best seller with great value for under $10. The evolution from traditional wound care to advanced and active wound care products puts SILVEX Nano Silver Wound Gel in a great position in the market, as antibacterial products are highly sought after. More people and families with active lifestyles have a growing need to be prepared outdoors and are looking for products to fulfill that need. During the pandemic, people had no choice but to adventure outdoors for an escape. Be Smart Get Prepared Happy Explorer 265-piece Outdoor First Aid Kit is what a family of adventurers need for their next excursion. DSN: How does your SILVEX brand play into the growing interest in immune-boosting products and proactive health? GG: SILVEX Nano Silver products are the first line of defense in promoting optimal health for individuals and families. SILVEX Nano Silver products address consumers’ health from the inside out. SILVEX Wound Gel and Wound Wash boost prevention outside the body by inhibiting infection from bacteria (MRSA, VRE, staph, etc.) and treating cuts, lacerations, first- and second-degree burns, sunburns, and abrasions. The Nano Silver Immuno Boost and Immuno Drops strengthen the immune system by clearing a path for probiotics to optimize gut health. DSN: What do you think are the big opportunities in first aid for your company? GG: The biggest opportunity is to make first aid relevant through education. Our purpose and intent is to change the mindset of consumers to be proactive instead of reactive. This is our legacy… Be Smart Get Prepared. dsn


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Meeting a Need Betterbrand’s CEO outlines its need-specific approach to supplements


etterbrand, a maker of needspecific supplements with a particular focus on respiratory health, is making its move into brick-andmortar retail after getting its start as a direct-to-consumer company. DSN caught up with Chris Jackson, the company’s co-founder and CEO, who got his start as a pharmacist, to talk about the brand’s products and its growth. Drug Store News: Tell us about how Betterbrand got started. Chris Jackson: Betterbrand was founded while I was attending pharmacy school at The University of Texas at Austin, but the idea started much earlier. It started when I was young as I watched my grandmother struggle with upper respiratory issues. Every child wants to help their family, and we feel powerless when we fail to do so. That feeling of helplessness has always driven me to learn everything I can about the human body and to empower others with that knowledge. So, Betterbrand started when I realized I could provide people with both the ingredients they need for a particular need state and an understanding of how those ingredients serve that need state. DSN: What are some of your flagship products? CJ: Our flagship product is BetterLungs, a natural supplement that supports respiratory health and immune function. I developed BetterLungs for my family and after years of iteration, and when I had something firmly rooted in science, my father (a life-long smoker) started taking the early formula. It made an immediate impact on everything from his mood to his energy levels. After seeing the impact supplements made on him, I believe that in the respiratory space, we can be a consumer’s trusted advisor and an extension of their friendly neighborhood pharmacist. Over the last year and a half that we’ve been selling BetterLungs, we’ve received


Chris Jackson, co-founder and CEO, Betterbrand

“I believe that in the respiratory space, we can be a consumer’s trusted advisor and an extension of their friendly neighborhood pharmacist.” innumerable reviews on how it’s helped them more than anything they’ve taken before. We plan to launch additional lung-focused products early in 2022, with the goal of continuing to bring innovative options to an underserved need state. DSN: The supplement category is a crowded one — what sets Betterbrand apart, both with its story and on the shelf? CJ: Two things set us apart: our reason for being, and our approach to science, education and transparency. We start with worthy need

states and build products that genuinely help those we care about. The number of hours spent reviewing clinical data surrounding ingredient benefits, as well as side effects (supplements are not always free of side effects and interactions), is unparalleled. We’re also one of the few brands with a pharmacist behind the scenes, considering the potential interactions for need-specific products. Additionally, we have on our medical advisory board a team of licensed doctors who provide an additional layer of review in the formulation process. Our thinking is, people often like to hear a second opinion in medicine, so our process includes several second opinions baked in. When it comes to consumer trust, we are a fully transparent organization that prides itself on doing things right. On the shelf, we stand out due to our clean and simple packaging. We also build trust with on-pack consumer resources, such as an educationally purposed QR code and barcode linkage, to HealthLoq where customers can view the Certificate of Analysis for our products on a lot-by-lot basis. DSN: What opportunities do you see for needspecific supplements? CJ: If our reviews tell us anything, the opportunity is to change lives through education and empowerment, and we want to do that in many more need states than respiratory support. I know I’m not alone here, but I believe that everyone knows someone who doesn’t have the quality of life that they deserve. We all know someone who attends their doctors’ appointments, picks up their prescriptions, but still wants to feel in charge of their own health. We all know someone with a barrier preventing them from taking charge. Our goal is to remove those barriers and empower others through supplementation by filling gaps left in their diet and rigorous medical regimen, working alongside their care plan and not in place of it. We leverage health science to help everyone be the best they can be. dsn


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What Has Changed? Addressing the blind spots hindering supplier-retailer partnerships By Dan Mack

I Dan Mack, founder, Mack Elevation


n 2006, Borders earned $100 million in profit; by 2010, they were losing $109 million. Borders was blind to both a looming technological and convenience paradigm shift. In 2009, Blackberry controlled 50% of smartphone sales; by 2014, it was 1%. They avoided the role of an internet browser. Blind spots can do more than hurt you; they can put you out of business. Our current predicament in business includes increased costs, looming inflation, limited face-toface interactions and an evolution in consumer behaviors. Recent interviews I conducted with vice presidents of sales within the CPG supplier world included the following concerns: • “Due to limited data availability, retailers don’t appreciate the size of Amazon’s business with us.” • “We are embracing more financial rigor in everything that we do.” • “Supply chain stress and cost increases are daunting. We must see positive retailer ROIs to continue investing.” • “We must critique each retailer’s cost to serve and improve overall profitability.” • “Digital cost increases are not our problem.” • “Our most important metric is our digital return on advertising spend investment.” • “Retailers are no longer merchants, but bankers and supply chain specialists.” • “Every retailer must now prove their value. We are following the revenue, wherever it leads.” My research has found that 3 in 4 suppliers are fearful to always tell the truth for fear of relationship blowback. We have a trust issue. The Retail Industry Leaders Association found that the No. 1 retailer priority is “becoming omnipotent on omnichannel.” And every retailer surveyed stated personalization was a top-five strategic priority. The consumer’s changing omnichannel expectations have dramatically influenced most retailer’s profitability, pricing and shopping trips. The cost increase in serving today’s consumer is not sustainable unless retailers and suppliers have a real

meeting of the minds of the costs associated with direct-to-consumer and curbside pickup sales. The following are other major concerns conveyed by a number of top U.S. retailers: • “All the work the consumer used to carry is now supported by the retailer. The dramatic increase in costs associated with curbside pickup and digital must be offset by our partners.” • “Our vision has not changed, but our job descriptions have evolved to cover the whole omnichannel responsibility.” • “Retailers are being evaluated on repeat purchases, shopper segmentation, product in-stocks, consumer acquisitions, views and impressions.” • “We are more serious than ever about the lifetime value of our most loyal consumers.” • “How do we maintain supply even during a crisis?” • “Our supplier partnership expectations have increased. What am I not seeing clearly?” • “Retail media is now a brand asset, and we are rededicating ourselves to our local communities.” Balancing supply chain excellence and profit should be the goal. We must think “big picture”while protecting relationships and conducting cooperative negotiations. Proactive incremental funding discussions that justify why the investment serves both parties must take place. We must assess goals, reassess agreements and evaluate white spaces. Candor, openness and commitment to co-creation must occur where both parties have an equal voice in plan design and joint ownership. Courageous discussions will include interests, assets, threats and risks with quarterly reviews done to course correct. A top executive recently shared, “If you don’t care about my agenda, I won’t care about yours.” Retail executives want partners who solve problems and think holistically about their business. Suppliers are looking for retail executives who are transparent and committed to building long-term, sustainable and profitable partnerships. Do you know how you are perceived? dsn


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Wellness Fuels Self-care How a holistic approach to wellness is driving innovation By Mindy Albuck

T Mindy Albuck, principal and healthcare team lead for market and shopper intelligence, IRI

he COVID-19 pandemic has altered the CPG retail landscape, driving unprecedented growth and transforming the industry as we know it. New product innovation has leveraged many existing trends, including self-care. Consumer interest in health and wellness has been on the rise for more than a decade in part due to rising U.S. healthcare costs, and the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic significantly accelerated this shift. The pandemic had an enormous impact on consumer healthcare spending, with omnichannel sales reaching $93 billion in 2020. According to a recent IRI survey of Americans aged 17 or older, 1 in 3 people is doing more now than pre-pandemic to support their overall wellness. As health and wellness remain a top priority for many consumers in 2021 and beyond, an array of innovation opportunities will continue to emerge within the self-care sector. Retailers have a great opportunity to effectively position self-care products to shoppers as they seek to balance their physical, mental and emotional well-being.

Integrative Self-care Solutions Consumers today have a broad understanding of wellness that encompasses an overall, holistic foundation for health. They have diverse needs, including managing stress and anxiety, improving sleep, supporting immune system health, improving energy, improving physical fitness, and improving mental clarity and focus. Across the store, they seek highly personalized solutions to address these needs. Over the past year, consumers spent an additional $16 on healthcare products, resulting in a nearly $2 billion gain. Expanding on this growth will become increasingly challenging and will rely on innovation. As shoppers look for need-based benefits, they are increasingly open to trying new products. Reflecting changes that have occurred during the pandemic, areas ripe for product innovation include healthy options that support at-home work and fitness,


increased meal-consumption at home and new ways of celebrating.

Areas Ripe for Innovation in Wellness As consumers transition into a new normal, we expect several product categories like nutritional supplements, home care sanitization products and more to grow. Preventive health care and the mind-body connection will continue to be a main focus for many shoppers post-pandemic. Supporting mental and emotional well-being is top of mind for many consumers, and sales of products designed to help this need are on the rise. According to a recent IRI survey, nearly all consumers agree that mental health is as important as physical health. Survey participants revealed a great desire for solutions and information about how to support mental and emotional health through vitamins, supplements, over-the-counter medications, food, beverages, home care and personal care products. Digestive and gut health and plant-based eating are other top wellness trends, as consumers seek to strengthen immunity, increase metabolism, and lower stress and anxiety. IRI finds that consumers have an average of 6.6 health-and-wellness goals. By understanding the attributes that are truly important to consumers and targeting messaging to distinct consumer segments, retailers can implement meaningful product innovations designed to drive growth and support consumers on their wellness journeys. Connecting with consumers by effectively communicating product sustainability and origins builds trust with shoppers looking to fulfill their multifaceted self-care needs. From a cleaner home to better sleep and strengthened immunity, many categories across CPG retail are being impacted by recent con-sumer behaviors and bring focus to the broad approach consumers have when it comes to self-care. Gaining insight into shopper habits and purchase drivers allows growth opportunities to come to light, paving the way for innovation and marketing initiatives to be individualized and precisely targeted. dsn


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Making Lemonade Independents can leverage the pandemic to reposition their businesses By Michael Abrams

P Michael Abrams, co-founder and managing partner, Numerof & Associates

harmacies across the country are gearing up to face another surge of demand for COVID-19 vaccines, presenting independent pharmacy owners with an important opportunity to reposition their business along more profitable lines. Independent pharmacies were struggling long before COVID-19, and on the current trajectory, that struggle isn’t likely to end soon. Simply put, if independents insist on continuing to operate along traditional lines of business, they can only look forward to death by a thousand cuts. There are ways for independents to leverage their unique assets to turn things around. To do this, independents must first take a look at critical business trends in the space. Cash pay — through which consumers pay a flat cash fee for drugs or services — seems primed for growth thanks to Walmart, Amazon and GoodRx. Services that lower costs and maximize consumer convenience and accessibility appear to be increasing in popularity as well, as do services that keep care close to home, such as telehealth.

Looking to the future, the key to independents’ success will be leveraging their strategic location, their high visibility and their strong customer relationships. Given that cost and convenience are king, independent pharmacists must next ask themselves: “In what ways do we create value, and how can we create value in new ways that build on our strengths?” There are a few short- and long-term ways for pharmacists to make that happen. Most immediately, independents should look for new ways to bring customers into the store and get them to return. Independents could do that by specializing in a particular product or


service line that has appeal in the local market, and by building on the current moment to become a center for testing and vaccines of all types. Taking the idea a step further, independents could consider specializing in cash-pay business and competing in the same arena as larger retailers. Depending on the characteristics of the local market, it might even make sense for independents to drop insurance transactions entirely and build their marketing focus around the cash-pay concept. Alternatively, independents could also partner with those big competitors. Some have already partnered with Amazon to provide a bricks-andmortar presence, in the process sharing in the economies of scale that Amazon offers. An appropriately customized digital marketing program is a critical element that independents need to have. Mobile applications are more affordable than ever, and they can be used to enhance relationships with customers with refill reminders, online orders, advertising for targeted discounts and customer loyalty perks. When backed up with actionable segmentation of their customer base, this will also allow independents to tailor their digital and in-person interactions with customers, supporting consumer loyalty and the delivery of a broader service portfolio. Looking to the future, the key to independents’ success will be leveraging their strategic location, their high visibility and their strong customer relationships. The “valued pharmacist” model positions the pharmacy as a provider of ambulatory care at a much lower cost than traditional providers, and efforts to diversify into clinical care delivery go hand in hand with efforts to win provider status in the context of managed care programs. In sum, the current moment is more optimal than most for independents to pursue these shifts. Independents have played a highly visible and valuable role in helping to immunize communities and control COVID-19, and as a result, should seize this increased visibility to ensure they can do the same in the years to come. dsn


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Medterra Names Reeder New CEO

CbdMD Rolls Out CBD-Infused Drink Mixes CbdMD is adding drink mixes to the company’s line of products. Sold in four flavors, the drink mixes contain 25 mg of CBD per packet, as well as added vitamin C. The sugar- and caffeine-free drink mixes use cbdMD’s nano-encapsulated technology to enable fast, water-soluble absorption of CBD, enabling users to feel the benefits sooner, according to the company. “We’re constantly looking for new ways to innovate within the CBD industry and offer a variety of product solutions for our customers,” said Martin Sumichrast, cbdMD chairman and co-CEO. “This new line of drink mixes makes adding CBD to a daily routine even easier, giving people the options they want to make the right decisions for a healthy lifestyle. And, we look forward to debuting even more exciting and innovative products this fall.” The cbdMD drink mixes, available in strawberry kiwi, lemonade, peach and fruit punch flavors, are designed to be easily mixed into any beverage. They are sold in 10-count boxes that carry a suggested retail price of $24.99.


CBD brand Medterra has a new executive at its helm. The Irvine, Calif.-based company has named Gregory Reeder CEO, succeeding founder Jay Hartenbach, who will move into the role of chief innovation officer and remain chairman of Medterra’s board. Reeder moves into the role from his position as managing director of Medterra International, which he held since February 2021. He brings to the role extensive CPG experience, including time spent leading Pfizer’s $18 billion global wellness business. Other roles at Pfizer include general manager of Pfizer Canada Consumer Healthcare and country manager of Pfizer Romania. His career started at Procter & Gamble in product development and brand management. “Throughout his career, Greg has found continual success in accelerating the growth of both well recognized and newer brands. That experience is going to be critical to our efforts to expand as a company,” Hartenbach said. “Greg’s success has only continued as he completely reshaped Medterra’s international business. It was clear very early on that all of Medterra would benefit from this level of leadership.” At the helm of Medterra, Reeder will be charged with spearheading the company’s growth into the larger wellness category while also continuing the company’s push for the mainstream adoption of CBD.


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Charlotte’s Web Adds to its Gummy Line Charlotte’s Web is growing its assortment of CBD gummies. The Denver-based company has rolled out Daily Wellness, THC-Free and Immunity gummies online and will be shipping the products to its 14,000 retail partners in October. “As America’s No. 1 hemp CBD gummy brand, gummies provide a convenient and flexible CBD delivery format for consumers and represent one of the fastest-growing hemp wellness product categories in the industry,” said Charlotte’s Web CEO Deanie Elsner, citing data from the Brightfield Group. The Daily Wellness gummy contains full-spectrum hemp extract in a raspberry lime flavor and is sold in strengths of 15 mg per gummy for $44.99 and 25 mg per gummy for $69.99. The THC-Free gummies also contain broad-spectrum hemp

extract with .01% or less THC and also are sold in 15- and 25-mg-per-gummy strengths for $44.99 and $69.99, respectively. The Immunity Gummy contains full-spectrum hemp extract, alongside 90 mg of vitamin C from organic acerola extract and ascorbic acid, as well as 20 micrograms of vegan vitamin D3 and 70 mg of organic astragalus root for immune support. The Immunity gummies contain 10 mg of CBD per serving and are sold in lemon berry flavor for $44.99. “After launching in 2019, Charlotte’s Web Gummies continue to receive overwhelmingly positive feedback from consumers,” Elsner said. “Our varieties are uniquely formulated, and some contain functional herbs, vitamins and botanical supplements that work together to support targeted wellness goals.”

Elixinol Debuts Pet Collection With interest in CBD-based pet products growing, Elixinol is rolling out its first collection of pet products with two chews and a tincture designed for dogs. “Our mission has always been to improve the quality of people’s lives through the power of natural, science-backed products created with integrity,” said Rob Hasselman, Elixinol president of the Americas. “We are so proud to extend that opportunity to our furry family members. We all want to see our dogs happy, healthy and active, and now our loyal customers can turn to the Elixinol brand to help support that.” Elixinol’s Everyday Dog Drops feature a natural bacon flavor in a formulation that blends broad-spectrum hemp extract with MCT coconut oil. Each bottle of the tincture contains 500 mg of CBD. Among the chews are the Calm Dog Chew and the Active Mobility Dog Chew. The peanut butter liver-flavored Calm Dog Chew, formulated to promote calm and relaxation among adult dogs, offers 5 mg of CBD, 50 mg of ashwagandha, 25 mg of chamomile, 50 mg of L-theanine and 25 mg of lemon balm per chew. The Active Mobility Dog Chew features a peanut butter cheddar flavor and contains 5 mg of CBD per chew, alongside 225 mg of turmeric powder and 250 mg of Anivestin, a natural joint care ingredient meant to help joint discomfort and improve mobility among aging dogs.



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With strengthened digital capabilities, a loyalty program built for personalization and a focus on customer-driven assortment, Walgreens is DSN’s 2021 Retailer of the Year Put the customer first and the rest will follow.

That principle has guided Walgreens as it revamped its retail offering over the past 18 months. Certainly, industrywide, the big story of 2020 and 2021 has been pharmacies’ ability to scale up COVID-19 testing until late 2020, when they began administering millions of COVID-19 vaccine doses. At Walgreens, the company is not satisfied to just be helping lead the charge of immunization. It has, over the last year and a half, transformed its retail offering to include a host of capabilities and initiatives that are positioning the company for the future. In the early days of the pandemic, while stocking necessary personal protective equipment and rolling out same-day delivery through Postmates (and subsequently growing its stable of thirdparty delivery partners), Walgreens debuted drive-thru, curbside


Walgreens by the Numbers 9,021 stores (as of Aug. 31, 2020) 75 million myWalgreens members 65 million mobile app downloads 10 million pickup, delivery and same-day delivery orders from its own assets


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and in-store pickup capabilities. The retailer built new features into its mobile app and website, and unveiled its revamped loyalty program — myWalgreens. Alongside its strengthened omnichannel infrastructure, Walgreens is working to build a constantly relevant assortment throughout the store — from health and wellness to beauty, seasonal and fresh. The company also has debuted a store credit card and a bank account product as it looks to grow its financial services capabilities. For all these reasons and more, Drug Store News has named Walgreens its 2021 Retailer of the Year. In exclusive interviews with DSN, executives from Walgreens — which currently operates more than 9,000 stores in all 50 states — outlined the growth that the company has seen since COVID-19 surged onto the scene, and how its pandemic-era efforts have positioned it well in retail and prepared the company for future growth.

Ramping Up Digital, Omnichannel

Walgreens’ leaders are quick to point out the extent to which customer needs factor into any new effort they undertake. This was particularly true last spring and summer when customers were looking for the convenience they typically expected from Walgreens while also wanting a shopping process that minimized their risk of COVID-19 exposure. In response, Walgreens sped up its e-commerce and omnichannel capabilities in a short timeframe while also positioning its ordering and fulfillment services for long-term success. “A lot of the work from the last 18 months was able to accelerate due to the investments we made as part of our digital transformation journey, which began pre-pandemic,” said Walgreens president John Standley. “Through technology investments, our teams were able to work in a more informed manner


and harness data and insights that aided in rolling out digital tools at scale to meet customer needs when it was most relevant.” Stefanie Kruse, Walgreens vice president and general manager of digital commerce and omnichannel, echoed Standley. “Before the pandemic, we were definitely working on accelerating our digital services and piloting convenience offerings digitally. When the pandemic hit, we obviously realized the need to do that with an even higher sense of urgency and to find new ways to deliver for customers safely and responsibly. So the things that we were already working on, piloting and scaling, we accelerated, and then looked at new opportunities as well.” These efforts include same-day delivery — beginning with Postmates and ultimately expanding to include Instacart, DoorDash and Uber Eats — and curbside pickup, the latter of which enables shoppers to collect their order in as little as 30 minutes. “It’s a really unique offering because obviously the speed is best in class, but also the convenience and access points are best in class as well in terms of being able to do that from your car, which is really meaningful for a lot of our customers who are either mobility challenged or highly immunocompromised and cannot go in the store and interact with people,” Kruse said. “It really gives customers a lot of convenience and choice.” To enable these omnichannel capabilities, the company built out its app and website — efforts that went along with the rollout of myWalgreens. Beyond enabling these convenience offerings, Pat McLean, Walgreens senior vice president and chief marketing officer, said myWalgreens creates the opportunity for a deeper customer relationship. “For years, we have been offering resources for patients on our mobile app and website, but with the launch of myWalgreens, we’ve been able to take that a step further and find new ways to engage them with the resources most relevant and timely to them,” McLean said. Standley noted Walgreens’ retail capabilities are able to be presented alongside its healthand-wellness tools with myWalgreens and its digital properties. “With myWalgreens … we are able to seamlessly integrate our most powerful and unique assets, including more than 9,000 stores nationwide, expertise of more than 25,000 pharmacists, digital channels such as Find Care, 24/7 pharmacy chat and personalized insights to meet customer needs. Standley’s acknowledgement that myWalgreens


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Walgreens Execs Leading the Charge LEFT TO RIGHT: JOHN STANDLEY, president; ROBERT TOMPKINS, group vice president/GMM of health and wellness; HEATHER HUGHES, group vice president/GMM of seasonal, general merchandise and photo; ANDREA COLLARO, senior director of brand management and product development, private label health and wellness; KIRK HANSELMAN, interim chief merchandising officer; ALYSSA RAINE, group vice president of customer marketing platforms; LAUREN BRINDLEY, group vice president of beauty and personal care; PAT MCLEAN, senior vice president and chief marketing officer; and STEFANIE KRUSE, vice president and general manager of digital commerce and omnichannel

enables insights that can personalize the shopping experience gets at the heart of the effort, as Alyssa Raine, Walgreens group vice president of customer marketing platforms, describes it. “We launched myWalgreens not as a loyalty cash program, but really as a customer engagement platform,” Raine said. “It’s not just about loyalty points, but it’s really about how can we help people improve their health outcomes and how can we do that in a way that is very inclusive, since we serve over 9,000 micro-communities that have diverse needs.” She noted that the ability to tailor a digital experience to the individual shopper is something that strengthens the company’s relationship with patients. “As soon as we offer more personalized experiences in any of our owned channels, we see that the engagement with our customer increases considerably,” Raine said. “We’re increasingly focused on how we can be building out these personalized touchpoints and experiences for our customers because it works. People know that you understand them better, that you’re taking care of their needs, and that you see them for the person they are and you value that.”


Delivering on Health Needs

Even the most robust digital and omnichannel capabilities are only as good as a retailer’s actual product offerings — which have had to evolve across the store as consumer behavior changed over the course of the pandemic. “We always put our customers first and continue to listen to their needs as we work closely with our suppliers and owned brand to pivot offerings across categories,” said Kirk Hanselman, interim chief merchandising officer. “In the early days of the pandemic, our teams moved quickly to ensure our customers had the necessary masks, hand sanitizers, acetaminophen, thermometers and cleaning suppliers they needed. We also realized families would gravitate towards family-focused activities like games and puzzles, so the team quickly leaned in that direction and that’s an area we continue to push towards. From a health-and-wellness perspective, we moved quickly on immunity and, more recently, during the spring and summer, on COVID OTC testing.” The company’s new digital infrastructure has played a key role in helping identify and deliver on consumer needs, Hanselman noted.


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Identifying Strong Partners


“Our omnichannel approach is an increasingly important part of our merchandising strategy,” he said. “We’re leveraging MyWalgreens as the central touchpoint with our customers, and we’ve developed strategies to allow for seamless shopping experiences.” Robert Tompkins, group vice president and general merchandise manager for health and wellness, said one of the biggest trends he is seeing is proactive efforts on the part of consumers to stay healthy — and a broader opening of minds to try new things in various health categories. “It actually is a really unique time in that folks are willing to try new things to support their immunity, to support their desire to get a good night’s sleep, to deal with the stress that they’re experiencing,” he said. “We’re seeing a lot of willingness to test and trial, which I think is a great opportunity both for us and for our innovative supplier partners.” The preparedness mindset that drove trips in the early days of the pandemic


Though Walgreens has many strengths as a retailer, one of the areas it has excelled in recent years has been its ability to choose partners that help bring new services and capabilities to its customer base. From its work with third-party delivery companies and its growing union with VillageMD, building primary care clinics at Walgreens stores, to the Adobe and Microsoft partnership that supports its myWalgreens capabilities, the retailer works with partners that can help achieve its goals quickly. “We work with top-tier service providers, whom we believe can help us enhance the customer or patient experience and ultimately provide ways to improve the health of communities,” said Walgreens president John Standley. “Leveraging this collaboration model allows our teams to test and try new initiatives and approaches, scale services quickly to meet changing customer needs, coordinate care amongst healthcare providers, and learn and grow from one another.” Standley noted that the company’s partners “are household names who have distinguished reputations and expertise in their areas of business.” In delivery, the retailer initially worked with Postmates, but in the past year and a half has grown its stable of delivery partners to include DoorDash, Instacart and Uber Eats. “When we were doing that, a large consideration was how do we really continue to lead in convenience and be able to deliver products as quickly and efficiently, and as safely as we can for our customers,” said Stefanie Kruse, Walgreens vice president and general manager of digital commerce and omnichannel. “Our partnership approach really revolves around ‘What is the patient and customer need, and how would a partner help us meet that and achieve it faster than we could just by doing it on our own?’” Working with Adobe and Microsoft has created the backend capabilities to strengthen the company’s digital and omnichannel build-out, according to Alyssa Raine, Walgreens group vice president of customer marketing platforms. “It’s completely changed how we are working, and without question how we will work moving into the future,” she said. “As you look at customer experience, we are focused on our owned channels � whether that be in store, app, email, etc. � and Adobe and Microsoft have allowed us to move parts of our data to the cloud and then be able to leverage them to orchestrate holistic customer experiences versus them being siloed.” In addition, the VillageMD partnership that has seen dozens of Village Medical at Walgreens locations open is part of strengthening the retailer as a healthcare destination. “We believe that primary care provided by board-certified physicians that is anchored in pharmacy and enabled by digital tools will help transform the delivery of health care,” Standley said. “In today’s complex healthcare environment, this coordinated care model is more important than ever. By combining the expertise of both the physician and pharmacist together, patients may benefit from a seamless experience that saves them time and money, and helps to better their overall health and well-being.” —D.S.


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is sticking around and is becoming particularly important among patients with chronic conditions who understand that tracking and managing their conditions will mean less frequent doctor visits and less potential exposure to COVID-19. “Health testing really is an area that people are interested in — understanding their pulse ox levels, their blood glucose and blood pressure levels,” he said. “Obviously, we’ve seen adoption of in-home COVID tests, and I think that’s kind of opening a lot of customers’ minds to the availability of at-home health testing in a broader sense. Maybe they hadn’t done a home test before. Now they have and it’s really opened their eyes to this great ability to self-monitor your health through a lot of the products that we sell.” Walgreens’ owned brands also play a key role in health and wellness by bringing innovative products that can deliver on customer needs and value. Andrea Collaro, Walgreens senior director of brand management and product development for private label health and wellness, said the current retail environment and shoppers’ focus on value is fruitful soil for its owned brands. “Shoppers are looking for value, high quality alternatives and support for managing their health — and we can offer all of that,” Collaro said. “Whether it’s a national-brand equivalent or innovative item that meets an unmet need, we will continue to develop products at pace.”


As an example of where private brands can help capitalize on trends, Collaro said one of the biggest launches from the retailer in the past year has been a pulse oximeter that includes a respiratory rate monitor, delivering on the increased interest in home testing that Tompkins pointed out. “We work very closely with Robert and his team,” Collaro said. “His team is charged with total category strategy for health and wellness, and then it’s a matter how owned brand comes to life and underpins and supports that strategy. … In general, whether you’re talking national brand or own brand, the products that we’re either developing or bringing in are always keeping that customer need at the center.” She noted that the myWalgreens launch came with a 5% Walgreens Cash reward for purchases of Walgreens-branded products to encourage sales of the retailer’s brands. “We’re going to continue to drive that program,” she said.

Beauty and Beyond

As in health and wellness, categories throughout the store have had to adjust their approach to the ways that shoppers have evolved throughout the pandemic. Industrywide, the beauty category took a hit as people stayed home and sales shifted more to skin care. At Walgreens, Lauren Brindley, group vice president for beauty and personal care, said the


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retailer quickly removed testers in store and ensured its beauty advisors were following social distancing protocols while remaining available as a resource for shoppers looking at products they had never tried. “It was a great moment for us to demonstrate our expertise and make sure we were there for customers in a way they were comfortable with,” Brindley said. “There were lots of questions around the health and hygiene of our customers’ skin and this continues to be a big area of concern for customers. With people spending more time in their homes, they had more time to reconsider their skin care routines and they wanted to pamper themselves and de-stress.” The company also leveraged its digital capabilities to make trial easier for beauty shoppers. It launched a virtual try-on feature for such products as color cosmetics and hair color, helping shoppers know what would suit them, even when purchased digitally. As in other categories, Brindley said myWalgreens has been a boon for beauty and personal care. “MyWalgreens created a lot of new personalized digital capabilities and ways we could connect with our customers,” she said. “The ability to target groups of those customers with specific brands, products, solutions, ideas and value has been a major win for beauty in particular, where one size definitely does not fit all. We’ve seen fantastic sales momentum using these new personalized tools to connect the right customer with the right solution in the right way at the right time. And we believe we’re only scratching the surface of what is possible with this new digitalization and personalization of our database.” Elsewhere in the store, areas like seasonal and fresh were revamped for the pandemic. Heather Hughes, group vice president and general merchandise manager for seasonal, general merchandise and photo, who also is leading Walgreens’ fresh merchandising on an interim basis, said both fresh and seasonal have shifted over the past 18 months. With fresh, Walgreens is working to continue to be a resource for fill-in trips in areas like dairy and eggs, as well as in convenience-driven purchases like instant-consumption products and prepared food. “Retail doesn’t turn on the dime, but one area where you can move faster is in that grocery space, so it has allowed us to shift a little faster as we’ve seen customer dynamics shift,” she said, adding that instant-consumption products, typically bought on in-store trips, have increasingly been going into digital baskets following the rollout of the enhanced digital offerings. Seasonal and general merchandise also have seen changes, with homebound shoppers looking for more décor items and seasonal decorations. “We saw this dynamic shift in how customers used to think of seasonal and then how they thought of it going forward,” Hughes said. “Our small format and safe environment as a healthcare provider made a lot of customers feel comfortable to be able to come in a Walgreens, get those key items


that they needed to support their families within the seasonal business — to continue to have fun and support their mental health.” Hanselman said the company also stocks local assortments where appropriate. “We strive to create a more meaningful and localized shopping experience by sourcing products from our customers’ neighborhoods that they know and love,” he said. Beyond merchandising, Walgreens has been building out its financial services offerings. The myWalgreens credit card and the myWalgreens Mastercard were the first of these to roll out. Via a partnership with Synchrony Bank, the cards are meant to offer rewards for the health-and-wellness purchases shoppers make anyway, with the myWalgreens credit card touting 10% Walgreens Cash rewards on own-brand products and a 5% reward on certain brands and pharmacy purchases. The company also has debuted Scarlet, a bank account and debit card offering that is powered by InComm Payments, with the debit card issued by MetaBank. “We’re really focused on those consumers who are going to benefit from living their lives as healthy as they can based on their personal choice, and also enjoy a Walgreens cash as a reward incentive,” said Maria Smith, vice president of payments and financial services. “We’re also thinking about how to provide occasional cardholder benefits that also amplify what they’re doing with myWalgreens program.

Ready for the Future

Executives said the insights they have gleaned throughout the past 18 months will continue to inform the company’s efforts moving forward, with particular emphasis on further building out its personalization efforts. “As we continue to evolve to meet ever-changing consumer needs, insights from myWalgreens will help inform our customer-first approach and the platform will enable us to deliver on those personalized insights through custom experiences based on behaviors,” Standley said. As Brindley put it, the future of Walgreens “is really about continuing to be customer-focused in everything that we do. We have to understand where customers are expecting Walgreens to support them on their personal journeys and with their products and solutions, as they come out of the pandemic.” Besides more sustainability and diverse brands, she said innovation and more expert services would continue to be a big part of the company’s offerings — all undergirded by its new personalization infrastructure — which Kruse said will continue to grow. “We’ve seen very positive results as an effect of all of the personalization capabilities that we’ve rolled out in terms of being able to talk to customers much more effectively,” Kruse said. “We’ll continue to build upon the capabilities, and we’re doing so right now through additional investments in marketing, technology and capabilities there that are going to bring even more personalization to the customer experience.” dsn


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Seeking Reform DIR fees are in the spotlight amid a push to rein in drug costs By Mark Hamstra


rescription drug prices are once again taking center stage in the national political debate, which may indicate a prime opportunity for changes in the contentious relationship between care providers and payers around direct and indirect remuneration, or DIR, fees among others. Community pharmacies have long battled against DIR fees, which consist of various adjustments to the price of drugs covered under Medicare Part D that are assessed after the point of sale. These adjustments can be impossible to calculate at the time the pharmacy bills the patient, which leads to increased costs for patients and reduced income for pharmacies, according to the major pharmacy associations. “Pharmacy DIR fees force community pharmacies to conduct business in an environment of perpetual uncertainty,” the National Association of Chain Drug Stores said in a statement to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services in 2019. “For months after


dispensing a medication, pharmacies are unsure of their reimbursement for that drug. This uncertainty is derived from not knowing whether and how much additional money will be clawed back at some future date due to imposed DIR fees.” The industry alleges that a loophole in a Department of Health & Human Services rule has allowed DIR fees to escalate exponentially, and it is tackling this issue through legal, legislative and administrative channels. The American Pharmacists Association and the National Community Pharmacy Association, along with several other groups, are parties in a lawsuit filed earlier this year that is seeking to force HHS to implement DIR reform that would close the loophole and make DIR fees visible to pharmacies at the point of sale. In addition, the industry is pushing for DIR reform through the budget reconciliation process in Congress and through support for H.R. 3554/S. 1909, known as the Pharmacy


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DIR Reform to Reduce Senior Drug Costs Act. “DIR and other clawback mechanisms continue to be harmful both to patients and to pharmacies, and APhA is addressing this on several fronts,” said Ilisa Bernstein, senior vice president of government affairs at APhA. “Right now … this conversation is happening in Congress related to drug pricing, so we are very hopeful that Congress will take action here.” Ideally, many in the industry would like to see DIR fees eliminated altogether, but having them assessed at the point of sale would at least provide some degree of relief, she said. Part of the appeal of DIR reform among members of Congress is the fact that DIR fees impact both pharmacists and patients. “It helps at the pharmacy counter for patients because if the patient is paying a co-pay on an inflated price at the counter, then they’re paying too much,” Bernstein said. “If this is all moved up front, then what the patient is paying at the time is what their co-pay or co-share will be.” Pharmacies simply need to know when they dispense the drug what the actual cost of that drug is, including the impact of any rebates and fees, she said. “At this rate, pharmacies are dispensing products at below their actual cost, and that just can’t continue. Pharmacies can’t survive on that model.”

A Partnership with PBMs

The problem needs to be treated as a partnership between pharmacies and PBMs, Bernstein said. “We need to work together to make sure that patients have the ability to go to their local pharmacy, and to choose where they want to go.” APhA disagrees with the assertion that DIR reform would actually end up costing beneficiaries more, she said. “It’s a matter of ensuring that all of the facts are laid out for Congress and they can see really what needs to be done here and what’s the right way to go. CMS can also approach this and fix it on their own, but at the same time, Congress can expressly fix this as well.” The APhA-NCPA lawsuit is currently making its way through the U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., where HHS has filed a motion to dismiss. In addition to the lawsuit and potential congressional action, the APhA and other groups are also working at the state level to gain greater transparency and to reform the current relationship with PBMs. Several states have taken action and “the trend is moving towards greater oversight in the states,” Bernstein said. “Having a federal fix that’s more uniform would be very helpful, but we need to approach this from all angles,” she said. Ronna Hauser, vice president of policy and pharmacy affairs at the NCPA, agreed, adding that congressional action through the budget reconciliation process could be the “quickest, surest route” to DIR reform. “We’ve been working diligently for years to try to fix DIR one way or another, whether it’s legislative, administrative or legal,” Hauser said. “We’ve been in close contact with the Senate Finance Committee, and we know Chairman [Ron] Wyden is supportive of DIR reform … so we’re definitely hopeful that we will see reform included.”


She counted DIR reform among the NCPA’s top two priorities in the current budget reconciliation effort, along with a ban on Medicaid and Medicare spread pricing, through which the association alleges that pharmacies are under-reimbursed. “We have been talking to all our champions on the Hill, especially the majority leadership, members in Congress and the requisite staff and all of the committees of jurisdiction,” Hauser said. “We’re making sure the independent pharmacies’ priorities are known and making sure there’s a pathway forward through all these discussions for our top two priorities. “We know that there’s a lot more work to be done to get fair reimbursement for pharmacies and more transparent and fair reimbursement to pharmacies, but at this point, we’re still focused on just stopping the clawbacks,” she said. Some actions on all of the industry’s efforts around DIR reform could take place during the coming weeks and months, but the specific timing remains uncertain. Even if there are changes to the way DIR fees are assessed, it will likely be another year or two before new processes and pricing are put in place, Hauser said, citing the time required to renegotiate contracts and the fact that much of the contract negotiation for next year has already been completed.

Retailers Seek Relief

Devan Conley, a staff pharmacist at TrueCare Pharmacy in


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Josh Young, owner of TrueCare Pharmacy, also co-founded a Medicare payment plan called Troy Medicare that seeks to make pricing more transparent for pharmacy operators. Troy Medicare uses a metric called the National Actual Drug Acquisition, or NADAC, which Conley said enables the company to calculate a better estimate for drug prices. North Carolina Medicaid also uses NADAC pricing, he said. Troy Medicare also does not charge DIR fees and pays pharmacists a fair dispensing fee for the services they provide, Conley said. “They don’t charge DIR fees because they’re trying to show CMS that it’s not necessary to charge,” he said. “You can have a viable business and you can have a plan that covers people’s medications, without requiring the use of DIR fees.” The plan has been gaining traction among providers in North Carolina, Conley said. “It’s a good model — it empowers those in the driver’s seat to actually take care of the patient,” he said.

Technological Solutions

Concord, N.C., said retailers like his end up at the mercy of insurers when it comes to setting prices for prescriptions. “The people who care the most are at the very bottom of the chain, and we’re the ones doing the most work,” he said. “We’re the ones facilitating the discussion between the patients and the doctors. We’re the ones that are seeking those prior authorizations to the insurance company. We’re the ones facilitating all the discussions to make sure these drugs are covered.” The unpredictable nature of DIR fees means that pharmacies need to take into consideration that insurers could seek to “claw back” as much as 10% of the price of a drug, Conley said. “That’s pretty hefty. Sometimes those DIR fees actually put you in the red on many claims. At first glance, it looks like you’re profitable, but then when you get this clawback, it’ll put you in the red.” The uncertainty around the precise amounts that could be “clawed back” and other opaqueness in drug pricing practices turn accounting into a guessing game. “We’re trying to operate under the confines of a specific system, but ultimately, they don’t really give us clear expectations of that system,” Conley said. Pharmacy audits conducted by payers add another level of complexity that pharmacies need to cope with, as rebates can be lost over minor clerical errors or when patients don’t adhere to their medication regimens.

Some pharmacies also have turned to technological solutions to solve their challenges around DIR fees. “About 80% of patients are not on the most cost-effective plan,” said Nathan Shanor, vice president and general manager at FDS Amplicare, which provides a service that compares plans for all of a pharmacy’s patients in order to find opportunities for cost savings. “It analyzes patient costs and pharmacy reimbursement DIR info to identify opportunities where patients can save money by switching to a better plan that also provides a great financial outcome for the pharmacy,” he said. For example, Dilworth Drug & Wellness Center in Charlotte, N.C., worked with Amplicare last year to identify high-priority patients who could benefit from lower out-of-pocket costs and drive higher profitability for the pharmacy by switching plans, according to a case study posted on the Amplicare website. The pharmacy was able to switch 81 patients to mutually beneficial plans, which resulted in a $10,973 decrease in DIR fees, compared with the preceding year, and a $40,126 improvement in gross profits. A typical pharmacy might have more than 500 Medicare patients, Shanor said, making it difficult for pharmacists to review all of the plans available to them. “Pharmacies need to quickly identify patients who will be at a disservice if they don’t switch to a different plan, whether it’s because of a formulary change, preferred status change or a general raise in out-of-pocket costs.” Pharmacists also sometimes lack sufficient knowledge to counsel patients on Medicare Advantage plans, which take the patient’s doctor into consideration, Shanor said. FDS Amplicare provides training, free patient communications and access to Medicare experts who can help pharmacies assist their patients, he said. An analysis of all stores using the FDS Amplicare plan finder revealed that the average pharmacy saw 27 profit opportunities by switching patients to a cheaper plan, Shanor said, and each opportunity represented an increased profit of $210. dsn


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Women Lead in Beauty DSN assembles women at the helm of beauty brands for a virtual roundtable on the state of the industry and diverse leadership


ecently, women have ascended to top-level roles in the mass market industry. On the retail side, the roster of female leaders includes Heyward Donigan (Rite Aid), Roz Brewer (Walgreens), Karen Lynch (CVS Health), Christina Hennington (Target), Michelle Gass (Kohl’s) and recently Maly Bernstein (Bluemercury). More beauty brands are also piloted by women in top roles, such as Debra Perelman at Revlon, Coty’s Sue Nabi and Alex Keith of Procter & Gamble. Many emerging indie brands have women founders as well. Here, DSN questioned several female beauty industry leaders in the mass beauty world to discuss how their businesses have adapted over the past year, what’s ahead and how being a woman has been beneficial to understanding their primary consumer. The virtual panel included: • Nancy Duitch, chief strategy officer at CURE Pharmaceutical and founder and CEO of Sera Labs; • Psyche Terry, founder of Urban Hydration; • Yamit Sadok, senior director of marketing at Twinlab, maker of Reserveage; • Donda Mullis, co-founder and chief marketing officer at Raw Sugar Living; • Rochelle Graham-Campbell, founder of Alikay Naturals, HER by Alikay Naturals; • Shannon Curtin, CEO of New World Natural Brands; • Alicia Yoon, founder and CEO of Peach & Lily; and • Sonia Summers, founder and CEO of Beauty Barrage and founder and CEO of Shielded Beauty. DSN: What were the challenges you had to overcome over the past year for your business? Nancy Duitch: Everything took longer and was more complicated to deal with at almost every business touchpoint because everyone was working remotely, and it did not allow for the creative collaboration that we were used to executing on. We


of course used Zoom, but nothing replaces being in a room with your team brainstorming ideas and coming up with solutions for our customers.

Donda Mullis: As an essentials provider, we felt personally responsible to provide as many people as possible with our personal care products. We are honored to work with such an incredible team of talented individuals who rallied around our mission to help people. Each employee put in the time, effort and commitment to support all our retail partners in shipping our hand sanitizers, liquid soaps and other personal cleansing products to millions of people in a timely way. We were reminded how important it is to not only build a strong supply chain, but to also diversify it so that we can quickly address resource shortages and quickly pivot accordingly. We also learned that with fast business growth, companies can often lose sight of who they are and the core values they represent. Therefore, we doubled down on making sure our employees felt safe and appreciated, and that our values of always leading with love, purpose and by example are reflected in everything we do — from our product innovation and packaging to our corporate culture and community giveback. There have also been serious supply chain issues on packaging, raw ingredients and bottles, which everyone is experiencing and, while we are working through these issues, there are no simple fixes. Our direct-to-consumer business has flourished and grown exponentially while our retail business did not do as well because the products we had on the store shelves at the time are not considered essential commoditized products. We pivoted during this time and now have products shipping to retailers that will be considered essential. DSN: Pre-purchasing and longer lead times are something we are hearing frequently with nagging supply chain issues. Yamit, can you comment?


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Yamit Sadok: There is no question that the biggest challenge we experienced was within our global supply chain. COVID wreaked havoc on sourcing packaging components [e.g., bottles and lids], raw materials and corrugate for shipping. We also saw transportation challenges and delays, as well as higher prices for everything from components to transportation. These challenges forced us to problem solve together as a management team to source new materials, new packaging suppliers, different componentry and new ways to continue getting our products to consumers. One benefit to this process was the consideration of alternative forms of nutrients. We were able to improve the bioavailability of two minerals in one of our key formulations, so we were able to turn lemons into lemonade. DSN: Rochelle, can you encapsulate some of the things you learned over the past 18 months? Rochelle Graham-Campbell: There is no denying that consumer buying habits are forever changed largely due to the pandemic. This also implies that the needs and demands of our consumer market will be significantly impacted too. We recognized this early on and realized swift alterations were required. Innovation has always been the key to overcoming challenges at Black Onyx World LLC. Bringing about innovation in our design, our messaging and our concepts helped to overcome a challenging year posed by the pandemic. Lessons learned: • Anticipate: Prior to the pandemic, we have always had great relationships with our secondary vendors. Many of our primary vendors ran out of inventory, so we were able to rely on our secondary vendors; • Forecast: Forecasting is crucial because you never know what obstacles your vendors could be facing, which can further impact your own operations; • Adapt: We were creative and substituted where necessary. Whether the bottle top looked different or the bottle shape was different, it didn’t matter; and • Communicate: You must be fully transparent with all parties involved in your operations. We made sure we constantly communicated processes with our customers, and business and retail partners. DSN: What’s the report card as we enter the last few months of the year? How is business? Alicia Yoon: Business is going well. E-commerce continues to remain strong, and we’re excited that our partnership with Ulta and CVS is only growing as our brands continue to scale even more within these partnerships as well. While business is going well, 2021 is still a challenging year because it’s now year two of the pandemic and things are certainly not “back to normal,” so we continue to have to stay flexible, creative and



wise about how to manage through remote work, supply chain delays and unpredictability.

Sadok: I’d give us an A, but I always feel there are more efficiencies, insights and key learnings that we can capitalize on, which will allow us to experience greater growth. We’ve been able to successfully move forward with new channel strategies and expansion into new categories with innovation while maintaining and increasing sales on our existing products. We made huge investments in completing our inner and outer beauty offering with our collagen supplements and now pairing it with our pro-collagen booster skin care lineup for our premium women’s brand, Reserveage. These products are aligned with the wellness trend that is reshaping the way personal care products are formulated, marketed and used. Sonia Summers: Business is great, we are back to 2019 numbers, so I can’t complain. For Shielded Beauty, we have two major launches coming up and we are confident that they will be successful. Retail is definitely bouncing back; we have seen the rise since the beginning of the year — holiday will be great. Duitch: Fortunately, business is booming for Sera Labs. We have worked with our retail partners as well as our advertising team to really promote our non-CBD products and bring awareness to the Sera Labs brands. We’ve executed global advertising campaigns for our new, clean, plant-based skin care line, Seratopical Revolution, that was developed with the help of our strategic business partner and global brand ambassador, Nicole Kidman, and includes our cutting edge, proprietary patented delivery system. Nicole has had a huge impact in our branding and product sales, allowing Sera Labs to grow into a well-known brand. Physche Terry: Since last year, Urban Hydration has seen triple-digit sales growth at our retailers. For example, sales in our facial cleanser category have increased 154% from last year while sales of our facial lotions and creams have jumped to a record 285%.

Mullis: Business has steadily grown as our team continues to deliver to our retailer partners, such as Target, Kroger, Sally Beauty and more, at over 98%, ensuring our products are consistently on the shelves when needed — not only in store but online as well. Our new 2021 launches have proven to be winners: Raw Sugar Kids Hair and Bath Care have exceeded benchmarks as well as our “new to market” sustainable deodorants. We are thrilled to see longtime advocates of our brand, as well as a recent surge in a new consumer base; so excited about our recent product launches.


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DSN: There are more women with top spots at retailers now, and as a woman leader, what do you see as synergies since so many shoppers are women? Yoon: Oh, it’s everything. It’s so fundamental to be able to relate to your end consumer in every way. There’s data and then there’s truly understanding their thought process and life events, such as pregnancy as an example. Major life events can profoundly impact how you contemplate products and what you look for. I don’t take it as a foregone conclusion that every retailer truly and deeply understands their shopper.

Summers: When I started in the industry, I used to wonder why most of the senior management were male. I love how it has changed. I think the synergies we are seeing come in the form of new product development — women know what women want, right? A great example is the sexual wellness and the menopausal categories. I also see it in the package design and what we like to display, ease of use and of course sustainably. Last but not least, we market and communicate with the consumer.

Terry: As a female founder and CEO in the beauty industry, I strive to be a “better maker” in my work. Urban Hydration was founded to create better products for dry skin and hair with more transparent ingredients. I think these fundamental values continue to be key to women shopping today, maybe even more so given the current situation with COVID-19. Women are actively seeking to support female-founded brands, but also brands that align with their core values, which is very important to Urban Hydration. With the focus on brands that are ethical and offering clean products with good-for-you ingredients, now more than ever it’s important that Urban Hydration is able to remain accessible and available to these women and their families.

Duitch: As a women-owned company, we feel that we can relate to our female consumers best because we have gone through all the same problems and issues that they have. The fact is that we have the empathy and understanding as to what our customers are looking for; therefore, we have a better chance at delivering what they want and need. We also know it’s critical to develop relationships with our customers. Our diverse marketing team consists of a variety of age ranges as well as those coming from different backgrounds. We understand what a 20-year-old wants, differs from a more mature consumer. Then the strategy is how do we market to multiple demographics, which our team excels at. The critical component for us is to make sure that when our consumer makes a purchase, they continue to reorder, and you can only be successful by delivering products that yield results and are solution oriented. 58


Sadok: Women drive 70% to 80% of all consumer purchasing, through a combination of their buying power and influence, so there are definite synergies there. This is particularly true for our Reserveage brand. I am so proud to be overseeing our innovation, public relations and retail marketing strategy. Our brand is led and run by women that are widely diverse. Shannon Curtin: Diversity of leadership in all dimensions is happening right now, and I could not be more thrilled to see benefits of those changes happening in real time. When top leadership on both sides become aligned to what is most important in the business, the synergies become realized within the business quite quickly. For example, what is most important to me is that we collectively ensure that those who shop in store, online and/or in a professional setting have an unparalleled experience of excellent service. Additionally, when both parties are aligned around their collective responsibility in treating the guest/member/customer/client/ team member and planet with dignity and respect, that creates loyalty and long-lasting business benefits. Diversity at the top allows for new and exciting changes for shoppers across all channels.

Graham-Campbell: When it comes to the shopping experience, women are usually the key decision makers for the family. As a woman, CEO, mom, wife and consumer myself, I understand the importance of an easy and convenient shopping experience. Convenience is a focus of our brands. We are a lifestyle brand and have products for the entire family. We are a one-stop shop. DSN: What are your goals for 2022? Will supply chain issues carry over into the next year? Mullis: On the supply chain side, we have created accurate 12-month forecasts, which help us to anticipate potential roadblocks and plan accordingly. We invest a lot of time into being able to more accurately predict the right amount of on-hand stock and purchase order limits so that our supply chain is always at optimal levels. We have diversified our vendors, knowing sometimes that our plan B might need to become our A game.

Curtin: If you are in business, you have supply chain issues. And yes, they will carry over in 2022. We plan to grow again next year, and as such we have taken our supply chain challenges into account for next year. The cost of the increases we have experienced and time to produce is still twice as long as pre-COVID. My advice to those in the budgeting process: It will take longer and cost more in 2022, so be mindful of these facts in order to honor your commitments to your partners. dsn


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Empowering Pharmacists Technology and automation companies offer operational solutions for pharmacies By Sandra Levy


all it the year of the pharmacist. Never have pharmacists’ roles been more expansive, more complex or more visible to patients. While the pandemic pummeled numerous businesses, pharmacies thrived by stepping up and filling the void. While continuing to face mounting pressures from crushing DIR fees, low reimbursement and the requirement to quickly fill a high volume of prescriptions, pharmacists also are providing a host of clinical services,


including COVID-19 testing, immunizations, point-of-care testing, medication therapy counseling, preventive care and prescribing medications in many states where they recently have been granted authorization. When asked, automation and technology companies concur that amid the pandemic, patients have become increasingly reliant on pharmacists to provide a vast array of clinical services, even as pharmacists have been under increased pressure to be more efficient. Determined to lighten pharmacists’

workload so they can focus more on patients, technology and automation companies are amplifying their products and services. Many technology companies are helping pharmacies address the critical responsibility of adherence, which has become more challenging for pharmacists amid the pandemic. For example, Irving, Texas-based McKesson stepped up to the plate with its Adherence Performance Solution and Clinical Programs Solution to help pharmacies identify nonadherent patients and patients at risk of


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becoming non-adherent. The APSCP is built into the workflow of its EnterpriseRx pharmacy management system. John Beardsley, McKesson senior vice president of corporate strategy and business development, said that the solution provides a means to document and manage patient care. It also alerts the pharmacist to have meaningful counseling sessions to evaluate reasons for nonadherence as well as opportunities to improve patient outcomes. “Often simple changes, such as adjusting the dosing regimen, synchronizing medication refills or offering delivery services can increase adherence,” Beardsley said, noting that McKesson also can help the pharmacy make it easier for a patient to take their drugs through automation of adherence packaging options, such as pill pouches and blister cards. Quebec, Canada-based SynMed, a Parata company, also answered pharmacists’ call to be more efficient while delivering patient care amid the pandemic. “During COVID, the capacity to automate as many workflows as possible became

“During COVID, the capacity to automate as many workflows as possible became absolutely critical, as pharmacists became clinical care providers and front-line workers nearly overnight. Automation is a time-saver and a lifesaver.” —JEAN BOUTIN, PRESIDENT AND FOUNDER, SYNMED absolutely critical, as pharmacists became clinical care providers and front-line workers nearly overnight,” said Jean Boutin, president and founder of SynMed technology. “Automation is a time-saver and a lifesaver. Both institutional caregivers, as well as our seniors who favor staying healthy at home, are looking for practical solutions that facilitate adherence to their therapeutic treatments,” he said, noting that the need for these solutions only became greater with COVID, and keeping this population safe became critical to preventing the spread of illness and supporting vaccine initiatives.

SynMed’s automation portfolio consists of SynMed XF, SynMed Ultra and SynMed Assist, which are designed to support blister card adherence programs. The XF, which is the smaller footprint of the two packing robots, has an output of 30-plus blister cards per hour and requires only one technician for its operation. The Ultra is designed for high-volume pharmacy operations and can produce 180 single dose cards, or 90 multidose cards per hour. “Only two technicians are needed to do the packing work of 17 staff members over the course of a 40-hour week,” Boutin said.

SynMed’s robots are meant to support blister card adherence packaging. The SynMed Ultra can be operated by just two pharmacy technicians, doing the work of 17 people.



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The SynMed Assist works both for smaller pharmacies that want to increase the output and efficiency of hand packing blister cards, or as a supplemental assist for exception meds not stored in the XF or Ultra robots like half tabs and cytotoxics. Boutin pointed out that automating adherence packaging helps pharmacies maintain adherence programs with minimal staff, freeing up valuable in-person time for vaccines and consults. It also provides a service that safely manages medications for vulnerable populations that need to remain at home. “Another benefit is that less time handling recurring fill requests from both patients and caregivers means more personnel available for consults and vaccine delivery,” he said.

Adding Efficiency

The RM1 from Crocus Medical is designed as a countertop solution to enable faster pill counting, reducing the amount of time it takes to fill a prescription.

When it comes to enabling pharmacists to provide more clinical services, automation solutions have become more important than ever. Kennesaw, Ga.-based KNAPP offers three solutions that free up pharmacy space for clinical activities, and also free pharmacists from performing more mundane tasks. Brian Sullivan, KNAPP senior systems sales manager of healthcare solutions USA and Canada, explained that the company’s traditional mail order and central fill systems provide a greater level of automation for maintenance medications. “A high percentage of prescription fulfillment is pulled out of the retail pharmacy and dispensed at significantly lower cost per script,” he said. “The retail site now opens space for additional clinical operations and frees up the technicians and pharmacists for more value-added activities to practice at the top of their licenses.” KNAPP’s micro fulfillment centers provide similar benefits for pharmacies at a regional level. Sullivan said that they are designed to provide a lower cost of entry, and servicing stores in a close geographic area, these micro fulfillment centers automatically fulfill prescriptions for same-day delivery to stores and their patients’ homes. If that weren’t enough, KNAPP’s Apostore retail pharmacy systems are used at a local level to open space behind the counter out

front. “By densely storing both prescription and OTC medications, and automatically dispensing in a much smaller footprint, the space for clinical activities is created,” he said. “Each of these solutions is driven around the individual needs and goals of the pharmacy that we are working with,” Sullivan said. “While a national chain may use a mix of all three design models, a smaller independent pharmacy would find more value in the individual store solutions.” Pharmacy technology companies also are offering medication synchronization solutions that provide numerous benefits for pharmacists as they seek to deliver more clinical services. EnlivenHealth, a division of Raleigh, N.C.-based Omnicell, is a front-runner in medication synchronization, which the company describes as a game-changing technology that is transforming both the practice and business of retail pharmacy. Med sync leverages an appointment-based model that aligns a patient’s chronic medications to a single refill date, improving convenience for the patient and allowing pharmacies to plan for ongoing administration of other services. By simplifying when patients refill and pick up their medications, med sync offers unprecedented


opportunities for script growth, enhanced workflow efficiency, patient retention, and direct and indirect remuneration fee mitigation. With resulting improvements in PDC (proportion of days covered) scores, pharmacies can demonstrate value to health plans and be compensated for Star Ratings performance improvement. “The simple act of helping patients consolidate their medications creates true value for retail pharmacies,” said Danny Sanchez, vice president and general manager of EnlivenHealth. “Our med sync solutions help pharmacies to increase script growth, drive patient retention and increase overall profitability. These proven technologies are empowering pharmacies to grow and thrive in the new era of digital-first health care.” Conshohocken, Pa.-based AmerisourceBergen also is a leader in helping its independent pharmacies to increase patient adherence and identify patient adherence gaps and medication risk scores. “Good Neighbor Pharmacy provides its independent pharmacists with a digital patient engagement center, which is a patient-centric hub that gives pharmacists all the data they need to focus their efforts on non-adherent patients,” said Phyllis Houston, AmerisourceBergen vice president


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of program development and market intelligence. “It also provides them with oneclick access to pharmacy benchmarking reports and patient outliers, so pharmacists can deliver more personalized patient care to those who need it most.” An important component of patient adherence initiatives is ensuring that patients refill their prescriptions, and it’s crucial that it’s easy for them to get their refills. To accomplish this, AmerisourceBergen created My GNP mobile app, which allows patients to refill their prescriptions with ease and have them sent directly to their local Good Neighbor Pharmacy. “Mobile app integration has and will continue to remain essential for pharmacies and patients,” Houston said. For patients who may not have smartphones or who prefer texting, AmerisourceBergen offers its community pharmacies text message support for refill reminders.

“Technology enables us to build solutions that automate workflows for clinicians. This is incredibly important as the scope of practice for pharmacies continues to expand.” —BILLY CHOW, CHIEF PHARMACY OFFICER, STCHEALTH

A Shot in the Arm As with so many aspects of pharmacists’ daily work, administering the COVID19 vaccines entails the completion of paperwork and pharmacy technology companies have solutions to shave time off this task, as well as to make sure patients are vaccinated. For example, Phoenix-based STChealth’s Pharmacy Clinical Services platform empowers clinicians to query immunization registries for up-to-date patient immunization histories at the point of care. This automated clinical decision support enables pharmacies to close gaps in care for patients who are past due for routine immunizations. After an immunization has been administered to a patient, STChealth’s platform automatically sends data to the appropriate public health registries to ensure compliance with vaccine reporting requirements. “Technology enables us to build solutions that automate workflows for clinicians. This is incredibly important as the scope of practice for pharmacies continues to expand,” said Billy Chow, chief pharmacy officer at STChealth. “Any amount of time you can give back to a clinician results in


KNAPP’s automation solutions include the ATD-L1P high-speed pill counter, designed to help count fast-moving drugs in a mail-order or central-fill environment. more time for patient care and ultimately benefits the pharmacy-patient relationship.” Arlington, Va.-based Surescripts also is relieving pharmacists from some of the tasks associated with administering vaccines. Larry King, Surescripts manager of clinical informatics, said that Surescripts Clinical Direct Messaging helps pharmacies electronically send immunization notifications and other reporting to prescribers as well as to federal and state authorities. “Pharmacists used Surescripts Clinical Direct Messaging to send COVID-19 vaccine information to primary care providers, eliminating the need to share this information via paper forms, fax machines and phone calls,” said King, noting that since December 2020, pharmacies across the country have used this solution to share more than 8 million COVID-19 immunization

notifications to primary care providers. Freeing up pharmacists from the burdensome task of obtaining prior authorizations also is beneficial in helping them provide better patient care. “Fortunately, increased use of Electronic Prior Authorization among prescribers will reduce callbacks and faxes to pharmacists, keeping them in their electronic workflow and helping them stay focused on counseling patients,” King said.

Getting Pharmacies Paid Documentation to support medical care reimbursement is yet another timeconsuming task that technology companies are prepared to simplify for pharmacists. McKesson’s Beardsley said that as pharmacies continue to partner with payers in a true value-based model of care, having tools such as McKesson’s Clinical Program


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Solutions built into their daily workflow provides pharmacists with reporting and documentation to support medical care reimbursement through medical billing functionality offered by RelayHealth. Additionally, the company’s Macro Helix helps covered entities and contract pharmacies maximize 340B program participation through software and services that target the operational, financial and regulatory complexities associated with the program that requires drug manufacturers to provide outpatient drugs to eligible healthcare organizations and covered entities at significantly reduced prices. “By bringing real-world experience and subject matter expertise, Macro Helix 340B solution ensures pharmacies successfully navigate today’s increasingly complex 340B environment,” Beardsley said. With only so many hours in a day, managing expensive drug inventory, especially across multiple locations, is yet another issue that technology firms are helping pharmacies address. McKesson’s Supplylogix provides pharmacies with visibility to manage inventory purchasing habits. “Supplylogix Pinpoint Inventory Management product suite can allow pharmacies to realize as much as a 35% improvement in inventory turns and minimize losses

from unsalable returns by as much as 25%, all leading to bottom line savings,” Beardsley said. “Another way to reduce costs is to automate the many manual processes that go into filling a script. Adding a central fill facility can certainly help pharmacies enhance their productivity (lower cost to fill); better control their inventory, with almost a 20% reduction in days in inventory; increase capacity; and offer higher quality of care to their patients. Supplylogix’s integration with EnterpriseRx provides real-time, accurate information and the analytical capabilities to improve decision-making and automate the transfer process between stores. Meeting federal and state regulations prior to dispensing is yet another drag on pharmacists’ precious time, and pharmacy technology companies are coming to the rescue on this front too. Take the case of LexisNexis Risk Solutions in Alpharetta, Ga. Jessica Hertzler, the company’s manager of healthcare strategy, said that pharmacists have an obligation to ensure that a prescription meets all federal and state regulations prior to dispensing. “Operationally, this is quite challenging as providers are licensed by a state board specific to their practice and not all are authorized to prescribe,” she said. “Some state boards will allow for manual verification of a provider’s license online, but the time it

takes to manually verify prescriber licensure for each prescription they are presented with is astronomical, and that is only one validation that must be performed. There are many others. While necessary, these validations take time away from patient care.” LexisNexis engineered VerifyRx to perform real-time compliance checks on prescription transactions before they are dispensed and transmitted to payers. “This really helps support reducing regulatory risk and increase the percentage of paid prescription claims, but it also benefits the pharmacist because it adds efficiencies to the dispensing workflow and gives them opportunities to provide additional patient care services,” Hertzler said. Embedded into the pharmacy dispensing system workflow, VerifyRx works behind the scenes to check the licensure and sanctions of prescribers to ensure compliance with regulations. “Pharmacy transactions are processed in milliseconds and workflow is only interrupted when a transaction fails one or more of the configured validations,” Hertzler said. “This one piece of technology affords the pharmacist time to work with their patients to counsel them, educate them and support their ongoing well-being. “ Adheris Health, a MedAdvisor company in Burlington, Mass., also is providing

“It is essential to support patients even when staff time and resources are short. The best way to do this is to provide patients with the information they need in supplemental channels.” —JIM ROTSART, EXECUTIVE VICE PRESIDENT OF CLIENT SERVICES, ADHERIS HEALTH 68


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pharmacists with a patient adherence solution that focuses on enabling patient engagement. The company’s latest innovation, THRiV, is an intelligent patient engagement platform that uses predictive analytics and the latest digital solutions to further support pharmacy staff to empower patients to live their healthiest lives. “It is essential to support patients even when staff time and resources are short,” said Jim Rotsart, executive vice president of client services at Adheris Health. “The best way to do this is to provide patients with the information they need in supplemental channels.” Adheris Health also has had success in offering solutions that provide the import-

Good Neighbor Pharmacy is proud to be the trusted partner of countless community pharmacies across the United States,” Houston said. Helping pharmacists educate patients is the bailiwick of Surescripts as well. “The pandemic also changed pharmacists’ and patients’ relationships,” King said. He cited a recent Surescripts survey, which showed that over the past 18 months, 68% of pharmacists reported receiving more questions from patients related to general health than medications (56%). “Surescripts’ new Real-Time Prescription Benefit for Pharmacy can help pharmacists proactively address questions and cost concerns, and help improve medication adherence for patients,” he said.

“COVID-19 has only enhanced the need for better information sharing across providers and prescribers, improved prescription affordability and solutions for relieving provider burnout.” —LARRY KING, MANAGER OF CLIENT INFORMATICS, SURESCRIPTS ant education and resources to help patients successfully start and stay on therapy via a multichannel approach — at the pharmacy counter, through direct mail and in text messages. “This reduces the amount of information the pharmacy staff needs to provide while still being available for more in-depth questions,” Rotsart said. Helping pharmacists educate patients also is a focus of AmerisourceBergen. “Another area pharmacists have played a huge role in over the last 19 months is educating patients about COVID-19 and vaccines,” Houston said. GNP developed digital marketing tools and custom resources to assist community pharmacists with the dissemination of key information to their communities so they can focus more on their patients. “At no time has the critical role of a pharmacist been more evident than now, and


Filling More Efficiently Finally, technology companies also are assisting pharmacists from some of the stresses that come with filling and dispensing functions. For example, St. Paul, Minn.-based Crocus Medical has several pharmacy automation offerings that can help alleviate the pressures related to the logistics of filling and dispensing prescriptions. These products include RM1, a simple countertop pill counter; automated multidose strip packagers for adherence packaging; and prescription self-retrieval cabinets, which eliminate waiting in line to pick up prescriptions. John Webster, Crocus Medical vice president of innovation and product development, said these offerings not only help to automate the functions, but they also require less labor. “Most of our systems offer higher output or greater efficiency, with less workload,”

he said. “For example, with the multidose packaging robot, a pharmacy can use one tech instead of three or four techs to create adherence packs. And with the pill counters, one person can really increase their output, freeing up more time for other activities. Once in use, each of our products help provide more time for patient care, patient counseling and a better customer experience, which of course builds customer loyalty.” While no one knows when the pandemic will finally be a relic of the past, it appears that pharmacists’ enhanced clinical role will continue to grow. Given their vast clinical capabilities and desire to help patients stay healthy, as well as the fact that many retailers are making a foray into primary care, means we will likely see technology companies continue to ratchet up their products and services to assist them. King envisions a rosy future. “COVID19 has only enhanced the need for better information sharing across providers and prescribers, improved prescription affordability and solutions for relieving provider burnout,” he said. “Technology that already exists can help pharmacists today and better prepare them for whatever tomorrow may bring.” Perhaps Beardsley summed up best about where pharmacy technology companies are headed: “As the future of pharmacy technology continues to expand past simple workflow tools, pharmacies are beginning to shift their focus to implementing solutions that not only help them deliver better patient care, but also help reduce costs, improve work efficiencies, address medication adherence and improve the patient experience,” he said. “Systems that fully integrate with each other across all stakeholders can not only improve workflow communications and efficiencies, but also improve overall pharmacy logistics,” Beardsley said. “Use of these technologies can help raise patient adherence rates, lower overall pharmacy costs, improve quality of care, simplify adjudication, improve patient outcomes and strengthen the pharmacy’s financial performance.” dsn


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Cough-Cold Category Recuperates After pantry loading and a soft flu season last year, manufacturers say consumers will soon return to the aisles By Nora Caley


s people go back to work, school and socializing, they might find themselves facing the once common but not terrifying threat: the bug going around. For most, it won’t be the coronavirus that caused the global COVID-19 pandemic, but a minor malady. As masks come off and social distancing becomes less stringent, people are becoming reacquainted with the germs they managed to avoid over the last year and a half. So just like in pre-pandemic times, consumers are again thinking about how to prevent or treat routine colds, flus and other respiratory ailments. Last year, sales of cough and cold remedies decreased dramatically when people


stayed home, many with their stash of OTC medicines purchased during the initial pantry-loading phase of the pandemic. Now routine respiratory ailments are making a comeback, as consumers are becoming less strict with their own protocols. That is driving an uptick in illnesses, and boosting sales in the cough-cold category. “What’s happening is people are being more relaxed with their behaviors,” said MaryEllen Tefft, vice president of sales for food, drug and mass at Newtown Square, Pa.-based Boiron USA. “What we’re seeing, anecdotally, is there are a lot of common colds going around. People have gotten themselves tested, but they are finding it’s not COVID but other viruses circulating out of the winter season.”

Tefft noted that there has also been an increase in flu-like illness, referencing the CDC’s Influenza Surveillance Reports. As a result, sales of Boiron’s homeopathic coughcold and flu remedies have increased by nearly 50% in recent weeks, compared with 2020. That includes the brand’s flagship product, the homeopathic multisymptom flu medicine Oscillococcinum, as well as ColdCalm, ThroatCalm and SinusCalm symptom relief products. “Natural and complementary medicines are really now the focus for the consumer,” Tefft said. “Consumers want to be more proactive in their self-care journey.” Retailers can benefit by communicating with and educating shoppers. That includes installing shelf strips that show information


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about natural remedies, updating the store’s online presence to include relevant information about when and where to use homeopathic remedies and having pharmacy staff speak with people in the aisle or by appointment. “Retailers can engage with consumers where they are by anticipating and being ready to answer questions,” she said. Many stores are merchandising the category early this year to counter a possible twindemic of influenza and COVID-19. “We’ve learned in the past 18 months that you can’t predict anything now,” Tefft said. “Years ago we could predict whether we would have a heavy season based on the opposite hemisphere. If Australia and South America had a bad cough-cold and flu season, we would as well. Now there is no real way to predict it.”

Return of the Sniffles One thing suppliers are predicting is that sales will rebound from last year, and may even increase compared with 2019. “With a somewhat normal back to school, a reduction of mask use and people going back to work, we are seeing illness track up higher than usual,” said Art Rowe-Cerveny, vice president of marketing at San Diego-based PharmaCare US. “It’s a higher velocity than two years ago at this time of year.” Influenza, the common cold and RSV are


not the crisis that COVID-19 is, but they still make consumers think about their health. “People realize they can get sick again,” Rowe-Cerveny said. Manufacturers, meanwhile, realize they need to remain flexible. “That’s hard to do, but that’s going to be the mission for us and the retailers we’re working with.” The key, he said, is to gather data often and act on it quickly. PharmaCare US makes the Sambucol Black Elderberry line of immune system support products in adult and kids offerings. Retailers have been seeing success with off-shelf merchandising, such as displaying kids’ products with back-to-school items. “You wouldn’t think wellness or cough-cold products belong there, but they do,” Rowe-Cerveny said. “People know when you get back to school and back to work, germs get traded.” According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, flu activity was unusually low for the 2020-2021 season. The CDC reported that from Sept. 28, 2020, to May 22, 2021, 1,675 (0.2%) of 818,939 respiratory specimens tested by U.S. clinical laboratories were positive for an influenza virus. For comparison, the CDC noted, during the last three seasons before the pandemic, the proportion of respiratory specimens testing positive for influenza peaked between 26.2% and 30.3%.

Shifting the Focus to Prevention Others agree that back-to-school season heralds a return to cold and flu season. COVIDrelated masking policies vary, and children are notoriously uninterested in the proper mechanics of handwashing. “They touch something, then touch their eyes, and that’s the most common way to get a cold,” said Lou Machin, managing director of Lifelab Health. “It’s not that there is not going to be a season. It’s what kind of season.” While it might be difficult to predict what kind of season the cough-cold category will have, certain trends have emerged. Retailers closely follow the trends, Machin said, and they know that consumers want organic products without additives. The Coconut Creek, Fla.-based Lifelab makes the HoneyWorks line of soothing throat sprays and syrups with USDA certified organic dark honey. The kids’ line is attractive to moms looking for organic, natural, GMO-free solutions. “We check off a lot of boxes,” Machin said. “We don’t have anything that is bad for you.” Retailers are also aware of the proactive and preventive trend. That means in addition to the usual array of symptom relief products for coughs and colds, stores are stocking up on immunity-related products. Lifelab recently launched the BerryWorks


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brand of black elderberry products that can help with immune system support and other benefits. The liquid, chewable tablets and adult tablets are high in antioxidants and vitamin C. “Retailers sink or swim based on understanding where the market is going,” Machin said. “They know there was a drain on inventory at first, then a glut because of pantry loading. Now … they try to make sure they are ready with more inventory in stores.” Other companies are also counting on the self-care trend to drive sales. “We expect this to be a big year for cough-cold, especially for immune support products,” said Tyler Bare, EZC Pak brand manager at Los Angeles-based PPC Group. “People are more health conscious now than probably ever before and looking for brands and products that help them take control of their health.” Not only are colds and flus returning, but news of new variants of the virus that cause COVID-19 are causing consumers to look


for ways to support their immune system, Bare said. “Retailers understand this trend. They are adding more immunity products and using endcaps and displays to highlight immune support brands.” PPC Group launched EZC Pak 5-Day Tapered Immune Support, which Bare said fills a void within the immunity space. “Most immune support products are for daily use or designed to provide a shortterm boost,” he said. “However, when maximum support is needed, it’s often unclear how much to take and for how long. With EZC Pak, we’ve taken the guesswork out of immune support via the five-day tapered system.” The product is designed so that the delivery system starts off strong on day one and tapers down during days two through five, all in one pack. Prevention, long a major theme in healthcare, became top of mind during the pandemic. According to Mintel in its report, “Managing Common Illness – US April 2021,” the COVID-19 pandemic and consumers’ resulting focus on prevention opened the door for a new segment in the illness management market. The increases in sales of immune support supplements, hand sanitizer, face masks and other products were well-documented during the health crisis, and there is evidence that consumers will continue to buy preventionrelated products. The report also noted that 28% of U.S. consumers said they feel less in control of their health since January 2020. As consumers seek at-home solutions,

illness management brands can benefit by “positioning recovery and relief as pillars of self-care,” according to the report. Another company that focuses on proactive health is American Fork, Utah-based Xlear, which makes products for sinus care and oral health. “Our product sales were up last year because our products are more hygiene products,” said owner and president Nathan Jones. “You use it before you get sick, to wash all the stuff out of the outer airway.” He said there have been several studies indicating that nasal irrigation reduces symptoms related to SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. For example, xylitol, one of the ingredients in Xlear nasal spray, blocks receptor cites of the SARSCoV-2 virus, which inhibits it from attaching to the cell wall of its host, according to some of the studies. Consumers are finding out about the science, and that is driving sales. “I think people are going out and reading a bunch of research studies out there, and they are reading the literature,” Jones said. “Saline irrigation is effective across the board. We’ve been saying nasal hygiene matters.” Retailers can benefit by staying up to date on the research. “If pharmacists pay attention to what the people want, and read up on it also, pharmacists are going to continue with that higher level of trust,” Jones said. “If they keep up with all these alternative things that are out there, they have an opportunity to help people.” dsn


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Personal Pleasures The sexual wellness category has evolved to include a host of new and innovative products for women and men By Carol Radice


t’s no surprise the sexual wellness category has come into its own in the past couple of years. The products that fall under the sexual wellness umbrella — sex toys, female contraceptives, condoms and lubricants/sprays/oils — provide relaxation and lower stress. With fewer consumers embarrassed about including sexual wellness items in their lives and increased access at retail, sales have taken off. No longer considered taboo, the topic of sexual wellness and the products associated with it are being discussed more openly by people today. With this openness has come a shift in perspective, an evolving mindset so to speak, that there is a real correlation between the physical and mental advantages sexual wellness offers. And, because of this newfound awareness, sexual wellness has gained relevance as a lifestyle category in many retail formats. “A few years ago, the category we call ‘sexual wellness’ didn’t exist,” said Stephanie Trachtenberg, director of marketing and PR at Satisfyer, based in New York City. “Retailers have since recognized the value of creating a destination for women’s wellness as it relates to sexual health. Now women have access like they have never had before and the destination aisle is allowing for more innovators in the space.” Studies, including one that Satisfyer was involved with, confirm that consumers are turning to sexual pleasure as a means of wellness. “There’s been a heightened focus on the importance of health and wellness and its impact on one’s physical, mental and social well-being. Sexual health is truly your body’s most natural resource of well-being,” she said. For years, the topic of sexual wellness was seen as shameful or unmentionable, but all that has changed, said Emily Sauer, founder and CEO of Brooklyn, N.Y.-based Ohnut.


She said with more consumers eager to learn about their bodies and more brands such as hers helmed by women who create products and messaging that speak directly to women, the category has gone from being whispered about to being openly discussed. “When more people start talking about something that was once considered taboo, it opens up the floodgates and consumer interest skyrockets,” Sauer said. At the same time, she said it is important to her that Ohnut is viewed as an inclusive company, both internally and in their brand messaging. “At Ohnut, we want folks to know that wherever they are at is totally OK, but also that painful sex is not something they just have to live with,” she said.

Acceptance from All Rebecca Pinette-Dorin, North American sales

manager at Exsens based in Cranston, R.I., said among the reasons the sexual wellness category is receiving a lot of attention is because society’s moral compass is changing. “Largely thanks to millennials and Gen Z, there is a growing indifference to the concept of sexual activity, a sort of ‘of course, you have sex’ attitude,” Pinette-Dorin said. “Masturbation, sex toys and lube have become givens for most young people today, and buying these items has become commonplace.” There has been a palpable shift in consumer buying habits, and while the pandemic is a large part of the reason, there are other factors at play. Michael Trigg, founder and CEO of Las Vegas-based Trigg Laboratories, said consumers have become much more selective when deciding between brands. “The information on packaging, the ingredients and the background of the company


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matter to consumers,” Trigg said. His company has responded by adding clean selling points and brand symbols to all its bottles. They also highlight the quality of the ingredients, the quality of their product, and the diverse and inclusive nature of their company, including Trigg being a member of the LGBTQ community and the fact that the company has a female president.

Innovation in Quality, Experience App-enabled products have been on the rise since the pandemic began and are now seen as essential in overcoming the added stress that comes with feeling more isolated and disconnected. Trachtenberg’s company developed the Satisfyer Connect app as a natural next step in reaching a wider audience while also broadening the ways users could enjoy its products. “We recognized that app-based products can unlock new opportunities and extensions of one’s daily lifestyle,” she said. “Expanding the technology and maintaining price points has enabled us to invite more users to enjoy our products as essential lifestyle tools.” As category sales continue to rise, it is up to retailers to keep up with consumer demand for the latest innovation and technology. “We believe everyone deserves access to the best sexual lifestyle experience and price should not be a barrier to achieve this,” Trachtenberg said. When Sauer created Ohnut it was with the intent to help address sexual well-


ness challenges, including painful sex/ intimacy issues. The result was a wearable device that allows users to customize penetration depth. “For as many as 75% of women, intimacy can be uncomfortable whether that is from a condition such as endometriosis, sexual trauma, childbirth or menopause. These are the folks we serve,” Sauer said In first quarter 2022, Trigg Laboratories is launching Organic95, a certified organic lubricant with environmentally friendly packaging. “Not only is this formula good for the planet, it is also vegan-friendly, cruelty-free, as well as paraben- and glycerin-free,” Trigg said. The company has also introduced its Luxury Collection, a line of lubricants in three formulas – water based, a water and silicone hybrid, and pure silicone. It is available in both 3.1-fl.-oz sizes as well as a TSA-compliant 1-fl.-oz. threepack. “The three-pack has become a top seller and that trial has led consumers to return for the larger sizes of their favorites,” Trigg said. According to Pinette-Dorin, Exsens’ flavored warming massage oils, personal lubricants and intimate cleansers have been trending. “A combination of boredom and a need for stress relief had everyone trying new self-care products last year. Self-love was all that was keeping them sane after months of quarantine.” Because Exsens’ audience is primarily women and couples, the company made it a point to differentiate itself from the male-centric, overly sexy, medical packaging that existed. “And, aside from being vegan and paraben-free, our brand is centered on being pretty, fun and ingredient conscious,” she said. dsn

Just a few years ago, conversations about wellness focused on diet and exercise, but now sexual wellness is in the mix. “Increasingly, consumers are turning to sexual pleasure as a means of wellness,” said Stephanie Trachtenberg, director of marketing and PR at New York City-based Satisfyer. She has the stats to prove it. Satisfyer’s consumer study conducted with Harris Poll this past fall revealed the following general insights: of Americans prefer intimacy when a sexual pleasure device is thrown into the mix of Americans said that there are a lot of benefits associated with a healthy sex life of adults who use a sexual pleasure device for solo masturbation said their use has increased since the COVID-19 pandemic began last year of adults said that because of the COVID-19 pandemic, they are more willing than ever to use a sexual pleasure device of parents said that there are a lot of benefits associated with a healthy sex life • Nearly one-third of women who own a sexual pleasure device (32%) attributed their device ownership to needing something to help with relaxation and provide stress relief. — C.R.


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Embracing a Changing World of Marketing Strategies Retailers need a mix of approaches to reach more varied shopper bases By David Orgel

F David Orgel is an awardwinning business journalist, industry expert and speaker. He is currently the principal of David Orgel Consulting.

or years marketing experts have predicted the elimination of the store print circular as technology brought new and more efficient retail marketing platforms. The print circular was called a relic, but it is still around — as are the newer platforms. There’s an important lesson here for retailers to remember — one size definitely does not fit all in today’s retail marketing landscape. Food and drug retailers are hesitant to give up longtime strategies that have worked, even as they experiment with newer ones. Increasingly they find the need to simultaneously employ many approaches. In fact, a diversity of marketing strategies is needed to reach today’s increasingly varied shopper bases.

Ranking Marketing Approaches Each year the relative importance of food retail marketing outreach vehicles is measured by FMI — The Food Industry Association. The latest data appears in FMI’s just-released 2021 version of its wide-ranging report, called “The Food Retailing Industry Speaks,” which is based on a comprehensive retailer survey. The most widely used outreach vehicles, FMI found, span older and newer platforms, including Facebook (91% of responding food retailers used it in 2020), email (89%), in-store signage (85%), digital circular (85%), Instagram (77%), printed circular (72%) and radio ads (64%). The effectiveness levels of many platforms don’t necessarily match the high usage levels. For example, while 91% of retailers used Facebook for outreach in 2020, only 36% of those responding retailers found it very effective, according to FMI. Similarly, while 89% employ email, only 43% said it’s very effective. And what about the print circular? Some 72% use it, and 47% find it very effective. And by the way, the three marketing vehicles just mentioned were among those found to be the most highly effective by retailers.

Social Media’s Big Influence Social media gained importance during the


pandemic as a marketing and communications vehicle. Retailers eschewed overt marketing and put the emphasis on relaying how they are supporting shoppers and communities during challenging times. As an example, Whole Foods Market summed this up with a simple message on social media: “We’re here for you.”

Apps Provide Consumer Insights The use of e-commerce has soared during the pandemic, as retailers have rolled out strategies via websites and apps. Some digital ordering tools double as marketing opportunities, as long as retailers take into account that shoppers may behave differently when ordering through digital means. Consider how this plays out in the restaurant sector. A recent article in Business Insider reported that when diners order digitally, rather than through a server, they sometimes order more food because they feel they aren’t being judged. Moreover, consumers ordering digitally may add more complex modifications to items, such as coffee beverages, the article relayed. These types of insights are important in developing marketing approaches in these platforms.

Personalization Gains Traction The retail industry increasingly has been exploring new loyalty marketing approaches, including personalized strategies that benefit from emerging technology. There’s no doubt these new loyalty strategies will become a bigger part of the retail landscape — from drug stores to food stores. The size of the prize is huge for those retailers that successfully retain shoppers.

Retailers Need to Embrace the Mix There aren’t formulaic or easy approaches to navigating new marketing trends. Retailers need to keep evaluating strategies for effectiveness and adapting to changing consumer behaviors. Much of the change will be evolutionary. Maybe the print circular will in fact meet its death someday. But I wouldn’t bet on that happening any time soon. dsn


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