Pharma retail emerges new frontier for organised players

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May 16, 2023

Viveat Susan Pinto, Financial Express

May 16, 2023

The country’s top two organised retailers, Reliance Retail and DMart, are shifting focus to the large but fragmented pharma retail market in India in their quest for growth. The Rs 2-trillion domestic pharma retail industry is largely dominated by mom-and-pop stores, much like the fast-moving consumer goods market and kiranas.

On Saturday, Avenue Supermarts, which runs the DMart chain of stores, said it had set up a new subsidiary called Reflect Healthcare and Retail to launch pharmacy shop-in-shops. Reliance Retail, on the other hand, proposes to step up the launch of offline pharmacy stores under Netmeds, the e-pharmacy company it acquired in August 2020. Netmeds is now a subsidiary of Reliance Retail.

The plan with Netmeds, according to persons in the know, is to open around 2,000 standalone pharmacy stores in the next few years. Reliance Retail already has around 1,000 shop-in-shop pharma stores across Reliance Smart Bazaar and Smart Point outlets.

During Reliance Industries’ fourth quarter earnings call last month, Dinesh Taluja, chief financial officer of Reliance Retail, said standalone pharmacy stores by the company would be positioned as destinations for pharma and wellness products. The aim, Taluja said, was to leverage omni-channel capabilities to serve customers better.

DMart, on the other hand, has launched one pharmacy shop-in-shop in the Mumbai Metropolitan Region (MMR) for now. But the future plan, according to industry sources, includes rolling out at least four to five more of such outlets in the MMR region in the next few months.

“While e-pharmacies are a growing concept, there is a large population out there that still prefers to go to a nearby pharmacy or medical store to purchase drugs or medicines prescribed or buy over-the-counter products,” said Devangshu Dutta, founder and chief executive of retail consultancy Third Eyesight.

“The number of organised retail chains in the pharma space in the country are limited. This presents an opportunity for organised players like DMart and Reliance Retail to expand their presence in the market,” Dutta said.

Apart from Apollo Pharmacy, which is India’s largest omnichannel pharmacy chain with over 5,000 outlets, the organised pharma retail space in India largely has regional chains or popular standalone outlets within cities catering to a captive market, say experts. So, organised retailers such as Reliance Retail and DMart can disrupt the market if they begin growing their presence.

Analysts at brokerage firm Kotak Securities, however, see DMart’s foray into pharma retail as a pilot programme, which could be scaled up in the future. “This is another pilot that is expected to boost footfalls in DMart’s brick and mortar business using existing store infrastructure,” they said.

(Published in Financial Express)