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Walmart moves protein bars to grocery aisles

Amidst wellness push, retailer also considering placing nutritional bars near cash register

Protein and health bars at Wal-Mart are getting ready for prime time.

The world's largest retailer plans to expand its offering of bars like Special K and Clif beyond the over-the counter section that features diet supplements to the more visible main grocery aisles of some of its stores, starting in January. Wal-Mart is also considering eventually placing these nutritional bars near the cash registers.

The move comes as the world's largest retailer, along with many other rivals, are going on a health kick as they fight to grab a bigger share of the wellness and healthy food business. Target Corp. announced last month that it was pushing granola bars and healthy grab-and-go snacks over candy at the checkout aisles in 30 of its stores. And CVS Health Corp. is also adding more fresh foods and healthier snacks at many of its locations while moving bagged candy out of prime store space in the first aisle.

As part of this overall push, Wal-Mart Stores Inc., based in Bentonville, Arkansas, also said Tuesday that it will be offering free blood glucose, blood pressure, and vision screening at all of its 4,400 stores on Saturday. In addition, more than 10,000 of Wal-Mart licensed pharmacists will offer immunizations in select stores for a fee. For most customers, insurance covers the cost. Calling it ``America's biggest health fair,'' the event has expanded from its first health fair last year when it was held in 2,200 stores.

Over the past year, Wal-Mart has been expanding its preventative and wellness products like specialty prescriptions.

"Customer behaviour is changing,'' said Michelle Gloeckler, executive vice-president of consumables and health and wellness at Wal-Mart's U.S. division during a conference call with reporters. "Customers are taking an active role in their health.''

For the second year in a row, Wal-Mart will be working with, an online health insurance comparison site and agency, to allow shoppers to compare coverage options and enrol in Medicare plans or public exchange plans created under the Affordable Care Act. Customers can enrol online or by phone or at more than 2,400 stores, from Oct. 15 through Jan. 31. New this year, DirectHealth is working with Jackson Hewitt to staff licensed insurance agents in about 250 stores. These agents will help navigate shoppers with more than 70,000 Health Exchange plans available to them as well as help customers older than 65 enrol for Medicare.

The moves also could help drive more shoppers to its stores at a time when Wal-Mart is starting to see sales perk up at its Wal-Mart U.S. business, which accounts for 60 per cent of its total sales. The company has posted its fourth straight quarter of increases for an important sales measure and its third straight increase in customer counts for its Wal-Mart stores in the U.S. But the retailer cut its annual profit outlook in August as it grapples with costs to make its stores more clean and friendly.

Meanwhile, Wal-Mart next month is slated to open its 18th health care clinic run by the retailer itself that offers primary care such as health screenings, and management of chronic conditions like diabetes. That's different from its leased health care clinics in its stores that focus on basic services like flu shots.

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