Supplement Prescription Sales with Profitable OTC Recommendations

OTC Recommendations

Drive sales by educating customers about vitamins and supplements

More than half of Americans take vitamins and other dietary supplements,1 and if you aren’t paying attention to this market, it can be detrimental to the health of your customers and your pharmacy business.

By any measure, the supplement market is huge:

  • Half of Americans regularly take a vitamin or other supplement, with use higher among older adults and people with higher income and education levels, a 2013 Gallup poll found.2
  • Use of calcium, vitamin D and other supplements has increased dramatically over the past few decades, more than doubling in some cases, a National Center for Health Statistics brief shows.3

Pharmacies ranked second, just behind mass merchandisers, as the place where shoppers usually buy supplements, according to a 2014 survey for the Council for Responsible Nutrition, a trade association for dietary supplement manufacturers.4 The same survey found that many supplement users consider pharmacists a trusted source of information.

Need for Reliable Advice

In addition to the increase in supplement use, three issues put pharmacists in a unique position to provide vital information:

  • Supplements can interact with prescription medications patients are taking.5 A pharmacy that pays attention to both prescription and OTC purchases can catch potential issues and counsel patients.
  • Patients taking medications may benefit from supplements. Recent research into potential drug-induced nutrient depletion indicates, for example, that patients taking medications for acid reflux may benefit from a magnesium supplement and those taking statins may benefit from Coenzyme Q10.6 Research also has shown that taking probiotics can decrease the likelihood of diarrhea from antibiotic treatments, a condition that can affect a third of those who take antibiotics.7
  • Consumers may be concerned about supplement quality. An investigation this year into the safety of herbal supplements sold by major chains brought public attention to the issue of product quality.8 Offering a trusted private label product can ease customers’ minds and increase pharmacy profit because of the higher margins on those products.

Set Up for Supplement Sales

On average pharmacists make 10 recommendations each day for nonprescription products.9 That’s an area where pharmacies can improve, Hamacher Research Group (HRG) says.

“This is an inherent opportunity for pharmacists to build their total store sales with concerted efforts on consultative selling of front-end items,” HRG said in a recent report.10 “With growing challenges on the prescription side of the business, recommending health, beauty and wellness solutions in the front end and encouraging a total store shopping experience becomes more paramount to survival.”

In nearly 30% of the pharmacies that Hamacher studied, 11 to 30% of sales were from nonprescription items, with the average being 14%. Half of those nonprescription sales come from health, beauty and wellness products, and the other half are split equally between home healthcare and general merchandise.

In addition to being ready to offer recommendations, HRG says pharmacies should:

  • Place products the pharmacist is likely to recommend near the pharmacy counter, within easy reach.
  • Educate staff members about types of recommendations the pharmacists are likely to make, so they can encourage patients to talk with the pharmacist and keep highly recommended products in stock.
  • Have information ready to educate customers, from shelf-talkers to leaflets.

Vitamins, minerals and supplements sales have been growing rapidly, and the aging population coupled with increased interest in wellness will continue to drive growth, IBISWorld predicts.11 Pharmacies that position themselves to be trusted advisors in that area can keep their patients and their stores healthier.

For even greater profitability, find a high-quality private label line of vitamins and supplements that you can confidently recommend to your patients. A franchise program like Health Mart® provides member pharmacies with access to a wide range of profitable and professional private label products, along with reference and educational materials.

Online Resources with Supplement Information

The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health recommends the following resources for information about the interactions between prescription and OTC medications and dietary supplements.

  • The National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements offers Dietary Supplement Fact Sheets written for health professionals and consumers, also available in Spanish. Its My Dietary Supplements mobile app for consumers allows them to receive information and track what they take.
  • The U.S. National Library of Medicine’s Medline Plus provides information about the effectiveness, usual dosage and drug interactions of supplements and herbal remedies.
  • Health Mart members have access to resources from Pharmacist’s Letter® (a subscription service for pharmacists covering new developments in drug therapy and trends in pharmacy practice), such as the “Clinically Significant Drug-Induced Nutrition Depletion” chart.


1 “Half of Americans Take Vitamins Regularly,” Art Swift, Gallup, Dec. 19, 2013. LINK
2 Ibid.
3 “Dietary Supplement Use Among U.S. Adults Has Increased Since NHANES III (1988–1994),” National Center for Health Statistics Data Brief, April 2011. LINK
4 “The Dietary Supplement Consumer” infographic, Council for Responsible Nutrition, August 2014. LINK
5 “Understanding Drug-Supplement Interactions,” National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. LINK
6 “Magnesium Deficiency Linked to Several Health Problems,” David Templeton, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Nov. 25, 2014. LINK
7 “Probiotics May Help Prevent Diarrhea Due to Antibiotic Use,” Howard LeWine, M.D., Harvard Health Blog, May 9, 2012. LINK
8 “New York Attorney General Targets Supplements at Major Retailers,”Anahad O’Connor, The New York Times, Feb. 3, 2015. LINK
9“Independent Pharmacy Shoppers: Who, What and Why?” Hamacher Resource Group, Jan. 30, 2013. LINK
10 “Pharmacist and Patient Conversations at Independent Pharmacy,” Hamacher Resource Group, February 2015. LINK
11 “Vitamin and Supplement Manufacturing in the U.S.: Market Research Report,” IBISWorld, March 2015. LINK