Nutrition & Wellness: How an Independent Pharmacy Found a Niche Beyond Traditional Pharmacy

Nutrition & Wellness: How an Independent Pharmacy Found a Niche Beyond Traditional Pharmacy by Elements magazine |

At Coastal Pharmacy & Wellness, an independent community pharmacy in Portland, Maine, patient health is about more than prescriptions.

The pharmacy stocks high-quality nutritional products from more than 150 vendors, and it aims to help patients find the right vitamins and supplements for their mind, body and lifestyle.

Many patients visit Coastal Pharmacy & Wellness solely for its nutritional products and wellness expertise, and practitioners regularly recommend the pharmacy to their patients. “It’s not just a small part of our business,” said Kim Crabb, marketing director at Coastal Pharmacy & Wellness. “It’s one of the cornerstones.”

Coastal Pharmacy & Wellness opened under new ownership in early 2016, but it had provided these services for more than eight years under previous ownership.

Five wellness specialists on staff curate the vitamins and supplements offered in the pharmacy after thorough research to ensure effectiveness and quality. “Our wellness specialists know about the companies as well as what goes into their products and confidently stand behind them,” Crabb said.

Additionally, the pharmacy stocks practitioner supplement lines that support and address certain medical concerns. For example, the pharmacy carries CandiBactin-AR® and CandiBactin-BR® by Metagenics, herbal formulas with anti-microbial properties indicated for Small Intestine Bacterial Overgrowth (SIBO). The pharmacy also stocks Homocysteine Factors by Pure Encapsulations, a nutrient blend formulated to improve homocysteine levels in patients at high risk of cardiovascular disease.

Crabb said these products aren’t commonly offered by other pharmacies or supplement stores.

Guidance from the experts

Vitamin and supplement options overwhelm many patients who lack knowledge about how they work and how they interact with prescriptions.

Coastal Pharmacy & Wellness does more than explain the differences between fish oil and flax oil. The pharmacy offers patients integrated guidance on nutritional products and prescription medications from experts on both sides of the counter.

“Our pharmacists are sometimes the first to be asked about nutritional or supplement information,” Crabb said. “While they also help educate and recommend supplements, they often bring our wellness specialists into the conversation.”

With more than 40 years of combined nutritional and wellness experience, including sports nutrition, medicinal interaction and nutrient depletion, the wellness specialists help patients navigate the products and make the best decisions for their health.

“When nutritional and pharmaceutical concerns converge, it’s a collaborative effort between our pharmacists and wellness specialists to help patients get what they need,” Crabb said. “Our customers find great value in the highly-personalized service we offer. They also appreciate that we aren’t just selling them a product.”

The wellness specialists steer patients toward the right products and away from ones they don’t need. “Their primary focus is on increasing wellness, not sales,” Crabb said. “Customers know when you’re being disingenuous.”

Consultations are on a walk-in basis, so staff members can spend as much time as necessary with each patient.

Coastal Pharmacy & Wellness will soon offer information cards to go with medications known to deplete nutrient levels. The cards will list food and supplement sources for the depleted nutrient and will include a discount for the applicable supplement.

“At the top of our list is offering probiotics with antibiotics,” Crabb said.

Educating patients

The supplement industry is largely unregulated and its credibility hotly contested. Confronted with so many contradictory voices, patients often struggle to understand what’s true.

Many patients wonder if supplements are even important. Coastal Pharmacy & Wellness believes they’re vital. “No matter who you are, unless you closely monitor everything you eat, you are most likely deficient in something,” Crabb said. “We believe, in addition to a healthy diet and exercise, they are an essential part of the whole wellness picture.”

To other patients, all supplements seem the same. They see five products touting real OMEGA-3 and wonder what could be the difference. So, they snatch the cheapest supplement o the shelf.

Crabb said that’s a mistake. “Searching for the cheapest option without regard for what goes into it or how it’s made can result in wasted time and money on products that aren’t as effective, have contaminants or have unnecessary inert ingredients that can cause issues,” she said.

Because Coastal Pharmacy & Wellness wants to educate patients on health and wellness, the pharmacy provides regular health education through in-store events, Facebook posts and its monthly newsletter. The pharmacy also enlists local practitioners and its own staff to educate the community and provide resources on topics like mental health, diet and exercise, functional medicine, Lyme disease, herbal remedies and acupuncture. “It’s important that the information we share isn’t just on supplements that will pull in revenue for us,” Crabb said.

Getting into sports nutrition 

Coastal Pharmacy & Wellness offers a specialization you’d be hard-pressed to find in another pharmacy: sports nutrition products.

The staff sports nutrition specialist, Dan Baker, conducts walk-in consultations with patients on Mondays and Tuesdays. During the consultation, he asks about patients’ activities, lifestyle, diet and health concerns to provide in-depth recommendations. He also educates them on how supplements work in their bodies on a systemic level. “It’s not just about telling them what product they need; it’s also about the why,” Crabb said.

Dan also hosts regular demonstrations at area fitness facilities.

For Coastal Pharmacy & Wellness, it’s all about improving health for patients through trusted relationships and holistic services. “We are truly committed to this part of our business and invest the necessary time and effort to make it a success,” Crabb said.


Products to Stock

Want to offer nutritional supplements in your pharmacy? Here’s a list of the products Coastal Pharmacy & Wellness, an independent community pharmacy in Portland, Maine, offers to give you an idea of where to start.

  • High-quality supplements
  • Nutraceuticals
  • Homeopathic remedies
  • Herbal remedies
  • Essential oils
  • Natural skin care and beauty products
  • Sports supplements



Quick Tips for Promoting Nutrition

Are you planning to offer vitamins and supplements at your pharmacy? Kim Crabb, marketing director at Coastal Pharmacy & Wellness, offers advice for other independent pharmacies.

Have a knowledgeable team
“You need to be able to educate as well as help patients find appropriate products,” Crabb said. “It’s what sets you apart and establishes your store as a valuable resource.”

Carry quality brands
“Make sure your brands are dedicated to strict quality control standards and use high-quality ingredients,” Crabb said. “Research them and pick the ones you can trust and stand behind. Don’t offer many different options just for the sake of having choices.”

Identify and cater to your demographic
“If you don’t have a lot of patients with young children, then don’t offer a lot of children’s products,” Crabb said. She suggests surveying your patients to gauge interest and to pinpoint their concerns and pain points.

Believe in it
“To be truly successful in a business like this, your team needs to believe in what they do and what they offer to your patients,” Crabb said. “If you’re adding supplements to your pharmacy in the sole interest of adding to your bottom line, customers will pick up on that.”


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Elements is written and produced by PBA Health, a buy-side solutions company.

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