CVS Drugstores, Aetna, and the Big Business of Health and Wellness

Drugstore chain CVS already has the retail business locked down, but now the Rhode Island-based company is banking on the health and wellness trend to help it make major changes to the healthcare industry. The retailer—which also provides pharmacy services—recently acquired the health insurance company Aetna in a $69 billion deal that promises to transform your local CVS store into the Apple Genius Bar of health and wellness.

Retail may be dying in other industries, but according to the company’s 2018 outlook plan, CVS and Aetna are going to grow in gangbusters. The retailer plans to leverage Aetna’s approximate 23 million members to rollout preventative services (like STD screenings or vaccinations) to it’s some 9,700 brick-and-mortar locations, which includes about 1,000 MinuteClinic urgent care facilities.

But it isn’t just about creating more urgent care facilities. CVS and Aetna want to use its stores to become the premier healthy-living resource for people who would typically visit the hospital for preventable diseases. At the Wall Street Journal Health Forum in Washington, DC on Tuesday, Aetna’s CEO Mark Bertolini illustrated his vision for CVS by using an example of a shopper named Sally with type 1 diabetes—Sally should be advised to exercise a certain amount and keep her blood sugar levels in check in order to promote a healthy lifestyle.

“Forget the MinuteClinic. It’s not about the Minute Clinic,” Bertolini said. “It’s really about a place in the store where you can come in” and get personalized health and wellness solutions.

Shoppers are indeed looking for those solutions, too. According to a study by Nielsen, 68% of American shoppers plan to “prioritize healthy or socially conscious food purchases in 2018.” That means big bucks in the pockets of brands who are peddling kale and cranberries and who are capitalizing off of buzz words like “free from” or “organic.”

Granted, the health and wellness movement has gained major traction in recent times, but five or ten years ago, it wasn’t such a big business. It used to be a much more niche shopping trend, pioneered by a community of crunchy, granola-heads and hemp-loving health nuts. These people gathered at farmer’s markets and fleas to sell or barter their locally grown produce—not their local CVS. They’re the same people who swore by Eastern medicine practices like acupuncture and ayurvedic tinctures before they were considered trendy.

Perhaps more recently, this growing health and wellness trend has taken hold right on our own, overactive social media feeds. Viral fitness influencers, or fit-fluencers, have become the go-to experts on leading healthy lifestyles. These influencers cover every thinkable facet of health and wellness, whether it’s workout clothing trends, healthy eating tips, or exercise demos.

Health and wellness has evolved into a fully-fledged business, man. Fit-fluencers like Kayla Itsines are constantly plugging their favorite new health tonics or gluten-free, vegan, paleo bites—most of which are usually sponsored. Famous for her toned butt, Jen Selter often promotes ass-centuating brands and hotels in exchange for free swag and trips. Even Kim Kardashian has cultivated an interest in health and wellness among her 111 million followers with products like appetite suppressants.

Happy Friday!!

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And people are suckers for it—myself included. I’ll be the first person in line to try that new kombucha or herbal supplement that promises to cure all of my physical (and mental) health ailments. Last month alone, I spent approximately $600 on health and wellness-related expenses.

I know that I’m not the only health and wellness obsessive out there, either. Look no further than your local jam-packed Whole Foods, SoulCycle, or Equinox for proof that millennials are getting in on the #HealthIsWealth movement. According to Statista, “the U.S. is the single biggest market worldwide not only in terms of revenue but in regards to the number of members in health & fitness clubs as well.”

“Going to workout” no longer means going to the gym and hitting the treadmill or pumping some iron, or even doing some hot yoga or Pilates. Working out has taken on a whole new meaning with boutique fitness classes, like Brrrn, naked yoga, or high intensity interval painting, that make working out appeal to more than just your stereotypical meathead. However, at some point, this ever-expanding fitness bubble is bound to burst—there’s only so much room for innovation in the market before it peaks.

What began as a lifestyle aimed at living sustainably, mindfully, and healthfully, has snowballed into one of the biggest consumer-oriented industries that currently exists (if you include everything from activewear, to food, to healthcare, to preventative care, et al). Perhaps CVS hopping on board the health and wellness bandwagon is a sign that this trend has peaked. On the other hand, the progressive retailer is making healthy lifestyles more accessible, which is definitely something we can get behind. But the big question is whether health and wellness is just a fad or if the green juices, chia seeds, and collagen powders are actually here to stay.

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