CVS – Designed to be Different

When CVS announced three years ago it would stop selling tobacco products, it was a game-changing move for the Woonsocket, Rhode Island-based retailer. The dramatic move was part of a long-term strategy designed to shift the retailer from old-school corner drugstore to a modern healthcare company distinctly different from its traditional competitors.

The shift in positioning has changed the way CVS looks at retail and private brand, creating a unified approach whose goal is to help people on their path to better health.

In early December 2017, CVS Health announced it had agreed to buy Aetna, one of the biggest health insurers in the United States, for about $69 billion in a deal that could reshape the nation’s health care. “We think of it as creating a new front door to health care in America,” CVS Health’s chief executive, Larry J. Merlo, said in an interview. The move provides the opportunity to radically rethink the definition of private brand and the impact on consumers.

CVS’ portfolio features more than 15 private brands including CVS Health healthcare products, Radiance Platinum premium vitamins, Essence of Beauty, Beauty 360 and Makeup Academy beauty products, and Gold Emblem food products.

In 2017, CVS expanded its “better-for-you” food options, adding 27 new items under the Gold Emblem Abound private brand. Additionally, products that fit nutritional and dietary preferences including heart healthy, good source of protein, gluten-free, sugar-free, organic and non-GMO project verified, are highlighted with shelf tags.

By the end of 2019, all parabens, phthalates and formaldehyde will be removed from products within the CVS Health, Beauty 360, Essence of Beauty, Promise Organic and Blade private brands.

At the end of last year, CVS began rolling out an innovative new way for busy patients to easily buy on-the-go necessities. Automated retail vending machines sell over-the-counter health products, better-for-you snacks and popular personal care products, and will be used as a vehicle to showcase products from the company’s private brands. Each vending machine will be customized by location and contain more than 70 products from CVS Health, Beauty 360, Gold Emblem and Gold Emblem Abound private brands.

The CVS vending machines were placed throughout New England and New York at such targeted areas as airports, including New York City’s LaGuardia; public transit stations, including Boston’s South Station Bus Terminal; office parks and college campuses.As CVS continues to differentiate itself, it is leveraging its private brands to deliver the experience, brands, and products necessary to win. Whether it’s the dramatic redesign of its NBE brand Gold Emblem or unique products like Gold Emblem Red Velvet Sandwich Cookies, Gold Emblem Abound Jalapeno Cheddar Quinoa Puffs or Makeup Academy Pro Color Correcting Crayon, CVS is designed to be different.


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Christopher Durham is the president of My Private Brand and the co-founder of The Vertex Awards. He is a strategist, author, consultant and retailer who built brands at Delhaize-owned Food Lion, and lead strategy and brand development for Lowe’s Home Improvement. He has consulted with retailers around the world on their private brand portfolios including: Family Dollar, Petco, Staples, Office Depot, Best Buy, Metro (Canada), TLW (Taiwan) and Hola (Taiwan). Durham has published five definitive books on private brands, including his first book, Fifty2: The My Private Brand Project. In 2017, he will debut his newest book, Vanguard: Vintage Originals, a visual tour of innovation and disruption in private brand going back to the mid-1800’s. Dynamic in his presentation while down to earth and frank in his opinions, he has presented at numerous conferences, including FUSE, The Dieline Conference, Packaging that Sells, Omnishopper and PLMA’a annual trade show in Chicago. Durham lives in Charlotte, NC with his wife, Laraine, and two daughters, Olivia and Sarah.