Recently, I was waiting in my local pharmacy behind a lady who was agitated about her prescription for vitamin D. Having been told that the pharmacy had not yet received the script from her GP, she became frustrated and left the pharmacy empty-handed and annoyed.
I have no idea whether or not she was exempt from paying the prescription charge, but I do know that the pharmacy was well stocked with a variety of vitamin D food supplements that the pharmacist could have offered to the customer instead – sorting her problem there and then.
Is pharmacy making the most of this category? According to Nielsen, the market for vitamins and minerals has been strong and stable, growing in value by 2.5 per cent year on year, and was worth almost £373 million in the year to April 2016. The number of people taking vitamins and supplements on a daily basis is increasing, with an estimated half of Brits taking a food supplement every day. Consumers’ desire to take a more proactive approach to staying healthy is fuelling this trend and there seems to be a particular demand for supplements that cater to specific gender and age groups.
An average person will visit a community pharmacy 14 times a year with a range of health needs, so there are numerous opportunities to add value for customers by having a discussion
about nutritional status. For example, when a woman comes in to buy a pregnancy test kit, it makes sense to ask whether she is taking folic acid and recommend a supplement.
Recent positive advances in terms of national recommendations on supplementation validate the strong and growing evidence base for food supplements, most recently Public Health England’s guidance on vitamin D during the winter months and the Scottish government’s decision to roll out free supplements for all expectant mothers from 1 April.
Food supplements offer a clear opportunity for community pharmacies to provide healthcare on the high street by proactively engaging customers in conversations about their nutritional status.
Getting involved in these interactions will help to meet the known increasing consumer demand for food supplements and will help people to improve or protect their nutritional status.
It may just provide some much needed supplementary income for your pharmacy as well.
This column first appeared in P3 magazine.