Grocer to test drive-through pharmacy

Giant Food store opening this week first of chain's locations to offer service

November 03, 2003|By TaNoah Morgan | TaNoah Morgan,SUN STAFF

Giant Food, which like most grocery chains has been building larger stores and adding services to keep customers longer, is trying a new feature aimed at convenience in the Columbia store scheduled to open this week -- a drive-through pharmacy.

The store, to open Thursday at the site of the former Palace 9 movie theater, is the first of the chain's 195 locations in the mid-Atlantic region to have a drive-through pharmacy, and Giant is the first major grocer in the region to incorporate the feature in its store design.

The drive-through reflects an increase in the reliance of grocery chains on nonfood items as the chains battle for market share with super centers and other formats.

"It's all about convenience and point of difference -- how can retailer A differentiate from retailer B," said Jeff Metzger, publisher of the Columbia-based Food World, a trade magazine.

"Prescription prices are going up and that's reflected in sales gains. Giant is a leader in the pharmaceutical sales. There's nobody close. They want to maximize the sales in their most profitable department."

The investment in pharmacies is not a new trend.

According to a report by the Food Marketing Institute, as the trade channels blur between grocery stores and other retailers, supermarkets have begun to expand their pharmacies and other services.

Nearly half the nation's food store chains have in-store prescription centers, said the report, which was released this year.

In 1980, there were 475 food and drug combination stores in the United States, but by 2001, there were 3,850, the report said. It predicted there would be 4,300 food and drug combination stores by 2006.

Metzger said the idea of a drive-through pharmacy at a grocery store is new to the mid-Atlantic but not nationally.

The feature has not become a trend because many logistical factors -- from store location and demographics to store layout -- have to be aligned to make it profitable.

"This is a test. They want to see how it goes," Metzger said. "The pharmacy has been a cornerstone in the Giant success story in the last 25 years. They're going to their strength."

Company spokesman Barry Scher said the drive-through is in response to the competition the store chain gets from free-standing pharmacies, several of which have offered drive-throughs for years.

"All we want to do is judge reaction to it," said Scher. "People want to get prescriptions filled quickly and this gives them an option of pulling up and getting it."

The store will be the eighth Giant in Howard County, and the company is planning an opening with face painting and food sampling. In addition to the drive-through pharmacy, the store will have a deli, bakery, floral department and seafood counter.

The location, which is expected to bring 100 jobs to Columbia, is the second recent opening in Howard County for the Landover-based retailer.

Last month, it opened its fresh-food distribution center on Dorsey Run Road in Jessup, bringing 550 jobs from Prince George's County to Howard.

Giant announced last year that it planned to build the distribution facility to replace a 47-year-old perishable foods warehouse in Landover.

The project was given fast-track permitting in the county, and $1.25 million in incentives from the state and county. It is near a dry grocery and frozen goods distribution facility the company has owned since 1979.

Giant Food, owned by Dutch food retailer Royal Ahold NV, has stores in Maryland, Washington, Virginia, Delaware and New Jersey.

Another major retailer entering Howard County, Wal-Mart, also announced last week that it is hiring 300 people for full- and part-time positions for the store planned at the Dobbin Square shopping center that is expected to open next year.

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