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NONFOODS: Wake-up Call: Think outside the pillbox

When I think of the market these days for health and wellness, I'm reminded that my feet hurt. In fact, my feet have been hurting for about three years, and I've tried everything to stop the pain. I've gone to the local podiatrist, with little result. I've been treated by a fancy podiatrist (caretaker of Mark Messier's and Mikhail Barishnikov's aching feet, among other famous tootsies), to gain only slight improvement. I consulted a big-deal orthopedic surgeon, who promised me that all I needed do was allow him to open up and reconstruct my feet--move a few tendons, reorganize some cartilage, slice off some bone--and with only nine months of rehab my left foot would be fine. Then we'd repeat the process on the right one.

I've been treated by a fancy podiatrist (caretaker of Mark Messier's and Mikhail Barishnikov's aching feet, among other famous tootsies), to gain only slight improvement. I consulted a big-deal orthopedic surgeon, who promised me that all I needed to do was allow him to open up and reconstruct my feet--move a few tendons, reorganize some cartilage, slice off some bone--and with only nine months of rehab my left foot would be fine. Then we'd repeat the process on the right one.

After rejecting the notion of 18 months of rehab, I was considering embracing the notion that my feet were just destined to hurt. Then a friend suggested that I try acupuncture. This wasn't the first time I'd heard such a suggestion; many people had suggested other versions of "nontraditional" medicine, including herbs, nutritional supplements, and massage, as answers to my problem. Being a traditional-medicine guy, I'd rejected all of them outright.

But a combination of desperation and hope this time propelled me to give acupuncture a shot. I went to Dr. Drew Taylor, a leading practitioner of traditional Chinese medicine (TCM for you insiders). Drew stuck a bunch of pins in my feet, but he also placed pins in my legs, back and hands, and, after letting the pins do their magic for 45 minutes, gave me a massage which made me feel like a loaf of bread being kneaded before baking. Finally, I was prescribed herb-infused patches to wear on my feet.

And guess what--it really worked. After six weekly treatments, the results are remarkable. While my feet are not completely pain-free, the level of discomfort has diminished by more than half. I can walk farther, ride my bike, exercise, and generally participate in life more completely. And I have a whole new aura, thanks to the aroma of eucalyptus emanating from the patches on my feet.

And speaking of eucalyptus, one of the highlights of this experience has been trips to the Kam Wo Pharmacy, in New York's Chinatown. Kam Wo bills itself as the city's oldest traditional Chinese pharmacy, and it's quite a place: a unique blend of Old World and New, with herbs hanging to dry next to state-of-the-art vacuum sealers, and clerks calculating doses via both abacus and PC. The blend is so successful that on a recent Saturday, the line stretched out the door.

Embracing other options

The moral to this story is that once again, I'm reminded that preconceived notions are the enemy of progress. I consider myself to be a forward-thinking person, the first to try a new technology or an innovative product. I market myself to clients as an innovator and a change agent. And yet, when it came to my health, I was highly resistant to anything that didn't follow the standard, traditional Western approach to health care.

My successful foray into acupuncture has, in fact, fundamentally changed my view of health care, and of approaches to health problems. I'm not quite ready to worship healing crystals, but I've come to believe, truly and deeply, that the Western medical approach may not be the be-all and end-all. When I have strep throat, I still want penicillin, but Western medicine is only one window through which to view a problem.

Am I alone in embracing this? Hardly. Alternative medicine is becoming big business. Depending on how you define the category, estimates of the size of the market for "alternative medicine" range from $3 billion to $120 billion. And that's just the U.S. market. These numbers are dwarfed by the global market.

We food retailers are already participating in this business. Just look at the size and scope of your nutritional supplement section today, vs. 10 years ago. The supplement category is growing in size, through the addition of new products and new combinations of products, and in sophistication, through the development of meaningful brands and products focused on benefits rather than ingredients.

(An amusing side note: A recent store check revealed that St. John's Wort, an herb that has been praised for its memory-restorative capabilities, has been joined on the shelf by a capsule combining several memory-related ingredients under the name "Senior Moment." I have no idea if this brand will succeed, but the attempt to move from ingredient-based products to benefit-based products is certainly evidence of a move up the marketing food chain.)

And this evolution in alternative therapies isn't limited to nutritional supplements.

Let's look for a minute in the tea aisle, where a variety of new brands have popped up offering specific health benefits, including sleep, energy, heightened immunity, and digestion. Celestial Seasonings has been in this game successfully for many years, and now has lots of company.

In skin care, where we have a variety of new products designed to provide both external and internal benefits to the user, that "healthy glow" seems to shine both inwardly and outwardly.

And what is the huge growth we've seen in organic and natural foods throughout our stores, if not an embrace of the unconventional approach to addressing health issues in advance, through avoidance of harmful toxins?

Defined broadly, the adoption of "new approaches to health" is affecting just about every corner of our stores.

In my mind, there are two large lessons to take away from this story:

First, at the micro-level, it's time to embrace alternative medicine as a growth driver in our stores. Consumers are spending more time and money pursuing these approaches, and we're already dabbling in some aspects of this market, so it's time for us to get more serious about it.

A smart retailer would assign someone in the HBC area to learn the emerging trends, markets, and categories in alternative medicine, and identify how his company could better participate. I'm not quite recommending the Kam Wo store-within-a-store, but I do think grocers ought to explore these opportunities at this relatively early stage in the trend lifecycle.

Second, on a more philosophical level, this experience serves to remind me that no mater how forward-thinking we say we are, we're all still creatures of habit, and we avoid new ideas until goaded by desperation.

If nothing else, my discovery of the power of acupuncture has reminded me that every time I'm in a situation where "nothing" seems to be working, it's probably because I limited the potential solutions to a safe and familiar set. When "nothing" is working, it's time to reach for a larger, more inclusive set of options.

Giant-Carlisle, Martin's launch new health & wellness Web site section

Giant Food Stores and Martin's Food Markets have rolled out a new section of the Giant Food Web site, focusing on healthy ideas. The section, known as "The Nutritionist," can be accessed from the Giant Food homepage at

Sylvia B. Emberger, corporate nutritionist at Giant Food, says the content "has been specifically designed to provide one with valuable nutrition information, health tips, and more."

The section introduces Giant Food/Martin's four nutritionists: Emberger, Lisa M. Coleman, Sylvia E. McDonald, and Mary Ann Moylan. The nutritionists run store tours in Camp Hill and Willow Grove, Pa. and Eldersburg, Md. for shoppers with health concerns, in addition to a range of classes and seminars designed to help customers live a healthier lifestyle. The nutritionist class schedules are also online.

Other subsections of The Nutritionist include Eating Healthy on a Budget, featuring a new healthy recipe every week, made with ingredients from the current Giant Food/Martin's circular; Kid Healthy Ideas, which gives parents guidelines from MyPyramid to learn what their child should be eating from infancy to age 18; and Product of the Week, which provides information about a chosen item's health benefits, taste, and usage in a recipe.

Carlisle, Pa.-based Giant Food Stores operates stores in Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, and West Virginia under the Giant Food Stores, Martin's Food Markets, and FoodSource banners.

 Wal-Mart Launches 'Phase Three' of $4 Prescription Program

Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. last month expanded the discount prescription plan that many grocers have replicated over the last few years. Phase three of Wal-Mart's "$4 Prescription Program," which was initially launched in Tampa, Fla. in September 2006, will cover a 90-day prescription for $10, additional women's health medications, and a new $4 over-the-counter (OTC) offer.

Wal-Mart said the 90-day option gives more choices to customers and physicians who may have been limited to mail-order prescriptions in the past.

"More and more people find health care, and particularly prescribed medicines, difficult to afford," says John Agwunobi, Wal-Mart s.v.p. and president, health and wellness. "This is one of the reasons we continually work to take our $4 Prescription Program to the next level. And our customers[m]and their budgets[m]are seeing a dramatic difference."

Wal-Mart, Neighborhood Market, and Sam's Club pharmacies are filling prescriptions for up to 350 generic medications at $10 for a 90-day supply.

Expanding on the women's medicines added to Wal-Mart's prescription program in September 2007, Alendronate, the recently introduced generic version of Fosamax, used to treat osteoporosis, is now available at Wal-Mart, Neighborhood Market, and Sam's Club pharmacies for $9 for up to a 30-day supply, or $24 for a 90-day supply. In addition, medications to treat breast cancer (tamoxifen), menopause, and hormone deficiency (combination estrogen/methyltestosterone tablets) were added to the growing list of $9 women's medications. Combined, Wal-Mart estimates that this expansion alone will save women more than $100 million annually.

Additionally, Wal-Mart Stores and Neighborhood Markets began a new $4 OTC program, offering customers more than 1,000 OTC items priced at $4 or less without a prescription. Wal-Mart said it has rolled back prices on key OTC items to ensure that almost one-third of its OTC medicines are now $4 or lower.
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