Obesity rates in the UK are soaring, with nearly a quarter of adults now classed as clinically obese. Despite government warnings about the risks of obesity-related illnesses – such as diabetes, cancer and heart disease – waistlines continue to expand. According to the Department of Health, this could cost the NHS in England as much as £6.3 billion a year by 2015.
There is a correspondingly large market in slimming aids – worth almost £70m, according to SymphonyIRI Group. Key subcategories in the slimming aids market, figures from the data analyst suggest, include: meal replacement bars, which grew by almost 30 per cent, and powder formats, where pharmacy has boosted its share by over 90 per cent.
From soups to smoothies and herbal supplements to pharmacy-only medicine Alli, customers have never had so many options when it comes to products to help them lose weight. But so much choice can be daunting, which is where pharmacists can help.
Market your range
“Every customer is different,” says Shafeeque Mohammed, senior healthcare development manager for Lloydspharmacy. “A range of services or products should be made available, but communicated in a way that the customer understands and can, with advice from the pharmacist, make an informed decision.”
A common mistake made by pharmacists is having an insufficient weight management product range, says Numark director of marketing Lynne Henshaw.
“You need to create a category – one or two products won’t do,” she explains. “And you need to create theatre around the category, from window to counter. It’s important to demonstrate your expertise in this area and depth of range is one aspect of communicating this.”
Subcategories should be organised so customers can distinguish between meal replacements and weight loss aids, while P treatments such as Alli should be clearly signposted behind the counter, adds Boots pharmacist Angela Chalmers.
And Ms Henshaw advocates that the slimming aids section should be placed near GSL medicines, warning: “Instinct tells you to display them near the window so people can see them, but many of these products are high-priced and could be subject to pilfering.”
Siting near GSL medicines also puts slimming aids within easy reach of pharmacy staff, she suggests. This means staff should be able to engage customers in conversation about the products if they sense an interest, rather than approaching directly, which could signal to the customer that they have been targeted because they look overweight.
In fact, one of the best ways to help customers get the most out of the slimming aids market and increase sales is to ensure staff are well-trained and knowledgeable about weight management, advises NetDoctor pharmacist Rita Ghelani. She suggests pharmacists could identify a particular member of staff with good communication and customer services skills to be a weight loss adviser.
Link products to advice
As well as being able to offer expert guidance about the clinical aspects of products, pharmacy can also offer customers regular weight management support at a time that suits them.
“Local community pharmacists can be the first point of call for people who want to lose weight. We can tailor appointments to fit with their schedule and reassure them that we will support them all the way,” says Anoop Mistry, Co-operative branch manager in Coalville, Leicestershire.
As weight loss is often an extremely sensitive subject for customers, Mr Mistry stresses the importance of promoting the consultation room as a place where they can discuss their issues in confidence.
“When a customer asks for weight loss information, I have a discussion with them in private about their views on losing weight. This helps me understand the patient better and what’s best for them – whether it’s meal replacements or tablets,” he says.
Failure to adequately publicise weight management services is another common mistake, Ms Henshaw believes. Pharmacists can publicise their weight management services through their local GP surgery and hospital, Mr Mistry suggests.
Placing leaflets and posters advertising weight loss services and the value of a healthy lifestyle by the pharmacy counter can also prompt a conversation from customers who may feel too embarrassed or be reluctant to approach their pharmacist about their concerns, says Ms Chalmers.
When supporting customers to lose weight, pharmacists should stress the slimming aids are only part of solution, says Mr Mohammed.
“Customers shouldn’t see weight loss products as a quick fix. Pharmacists should help them by setting realistic weight loss goals and providing lifestyle and healthy living advice in conjunction with using any product,” he says.
So by stocking an extensive range of clearly displayed products and offering consistent support and expert advice, pharmacists can not only help tackle the obesity crisis but also empower individuals to reach their ideal weight – as well as boosting their own bottom line with retail and service income.
As Ms Henshaw says: “The pharmacist is able to counsel and mentor patients and this time spent with them is key in the success of the person losing weight. So a weight management service is crucial for both the patient and the pharmacy business.”
Case study 1
Brora Pharmacy, Sunderland
Katrina Sinclair, the pharmacist manager, explains how the Numark weight management toolkit has helped her customers to lose weight while increasing footfall
After speaking to local GPs six months ago, we ordered the Numark weight management toolkit, which includes user-friendly material to give to patients – such as weight diaries, training information and posters and banners to help promote the service. The pack costs around £100 and the diet costs patients £3 a week, lasts for between seven and 12 weeks and is based on a healthy plan for living that looks at food, lifestyle and exercise.
From a small start with a couple of people, news of the service has spread through word of mouth and we have also had referrals from a local GP. We have a lot of older ladies taking part in the diet whose mobility is compromised and who really appreciate the one-to-one contact with a pharmacist.
One lady lost 10lbs in 12 weeks – which is ideal, as it is a slow and sustained weight loss – and she has now completely changed her eating patterns, which is what makes this diet so sustainable.
We have also been linking the weight loss programme to other services, such as testing patients taking part in the diet for diabetes.
By building trust and a relationship with patients taking part in the programme you increase footfall. It allows you to introduce other services and gives you the chance to build a whole pharmacy offering to customers.
Case study 2
Pritchards Pharmacy, Walsall
The pharmacist manager reveals how Lipotrim has helped his customers shed pounds while boosting business
Walsall has a high percentage of obesity, so we wanted to see if we could help people manage their weight more effectively. This January, we decided to offer the Lipotrim programme. For a start-up cost of £200 it provides everything you need to support customers to lose weight, including online training resources.
The programme’s products and those pharmacies that deliver the service are publicised on the internet, which is where we get our referrals from. We charge women £36 a week and men £48, and I spend around 30 minutes a week with patients, so the programme generates cash flow.
Lipotrim is a liquid diet, which is nutritionally complete, and patients take three or four sachets a day until they reach their target. When a patient first visits us to take part in the programme, we go through a medical screening form with them – which includes measuring their height and weight to work out their BMI. We also show them a DVD about the programme so they know what’s involved.
We offer patients weekly support and advice, not only during the programme but also afterwards to help them maintain a healthy diet.
Weight loss for patients is dramatic. One lady on the diet lost 65lbs in just four months. Having tried every diet, she’s delighted with her weight loss and says the only reason it worked is because she had weekly support
from the pharmacy.
The programme has made a huge difference to business – we are around 10 per cent up on budget last year. I wasn’t convinced this approach would be a success but have been proven wrong.
Brand Watch: Alli
Since its launch in April 2009, Alli has potentially helped people lose over 237 tonnes of weight, according to manufacturer GSK’s sales data.
Data analyst SymphonyIRI Group ranks the brand as number one in the slimming aid capsule subcategory, and number two in the overall market.
Having this year re-launched the pharmacist training programme (www.mypharmassist.co.uk), Alli will next year launch an advertising campaign to help people understand the importance of losing weight in a safe and sustainable way.
Lizzie Champion, GSK group brand manager, Rx, says the campaign will have a strong focus on supporting pharmacy and will encourage consumers to talk to their local pharmacist.
Alli also provides materials to help consumers make initial steps to managing their weight – for instance, a POS aid that allows customers to calculate their own BMI and encourages a follow-up conversation with their pharmacist.
The manufacturer “will be expanding the franchise in 2011 to continue to help consumers achieve healthy and sustainable weight loss”, Ms Champion adds.
Brand Watch: ShapeSmart
ShapeSmart ranks fifth in the slimming aid tablets brand hierarchy, according to data analyst SymphonyIRI Group.
David Towse, head of marketing for Goldshield – which markets ShapeSmart – explains the brand covers three products designed to deal with the fact that people find managing weight challenging for different reasons. These are Lipobind, which is a “fat binder”; Appesat, a natural appetite suppressant; and DEcarb, a natural carb blocker launched in April this year.
The brand is planning to launch a £500,000 advertising campaign in December to raise awareness of its products, not only among consumers but also in pharmacy.
ShapeSmart promotes the brand through “EATERtypes” (www.eatertypes.co.uk), an online assessment tool developed to help individuals understand their eating habits, how they can affect their weight and what steps to take to manage their weight loss.
A four-page document has been developed by ShapeSmart to familiarise pharmacists with different eater types and to help them recommend the product most suited to customer’s weight management needs.
Pharmacists can also promote the brand through signs placed on the shelf beneath the ShapeSmart products, which prompt customers to find out what their eater type is and to ask their pharmacy for help and through display units.
Mr Towse believes what makes the brand unique is that whereas other weight management products are launched with the assumption they are suitable for everyone, “we are the only weight management brand in the marketplace that is tailored to people’s individual requirements”.
5 tips for boosting weight management services
1 “Offer a range of options and tailor weight loss services to suit the patient’s needs.”
Anoop Mistry, branch manager,
Co-operative Pharmacy, Coalville, Leicestershire
2 “Use your weight management service to cross-sell other services you provide.”
Lynne Henshaw, director of marketing, Numark
3 “Offer customers healthy living advice to support them in their weight loss.”
Shafeeque Mohammed, senior healthcare development manager, Lloydspharmacy
4 “Keep it simple. Give people easy ways they can lose weight such as taking the stairs, not the lift, at work.”
Angela Chalmers, pharmacist, Boots
5 “If a patient isn’t making immediate progress with their weight loss, reassure and support them – tell them one bad week doesn’t make a bad plan.”
Katrina Sinclair, pharmacist manager, Brora Pharmacy, Sunderland
Tips for your CPD entry on weight management
Reflect Do my patients get the most out of weight management products?
Plan Review my and my staff’s knowledge and sales protocols.
Act Read this article, review available products, consider weight management programmes where appropriate and arrange training as necessary.
Evaluate Do my patients get better weight management advice?