Mark Longley firstname.lastname@example.orgFriday 07 April 2017, 7:41AM
Grant Bai Green Cross Health’s CEO
If you stand outside the Unichem Milford pharmacy on
Auckland's Kitchener Rd, you could throw a tennis ball and hit
another Unichem a hundred yards away. Walk a short distance into
the mall and there is a Life Pharmacy. The pharmacies, which fall
under the Green Cross Health banner, dominate the market in the
north shore suburb.
With 286 Unichem pharmacies and 64 Life Pharmacies
it's fair to say Green Cross Health is the dominant player in
pharmacy in New Zealand. It is also one of the major players in the
retail world. Not bad for a company that started out from humble
beginnings as a buying cooperative.
In Australia, Green Cross Health would be known as a
banner group, and there are a lot more of them over there. During
the recent Australian Professional Pharmacy conference, one of the
topics talked about at a panel discussion was whether they wield
too much power at the expense of the independents. The panel was
made up of the heads of the seven largest banner groups, including
the newly formed Terry White Chemart. The panel members argued the
benefits they bring far outweigh any negatives. Training, support,
buying power and the economies of scale larger bodies generally
bring were among reasons cited. Also, at the end of the day the
consumer benefits, which is kind of the point - better healthcare
outcomes for patients.
The same could be said for Green Cross Health, who
were, for example, involved in the recent reclassification of the
contraceptive pill. The move to allow pharmacists to administer the
pill under certain conditions was both welcomed by, and benefited
the wider sector. It is also seen as a step that will benefit the
The company is more than a buying group these days
and has expanded into medical centres and a community health
sector. The collaborative approach the company takes to healthcare
has put them in a strong position when it comes to bargaining for
outcomes. Their Professional Services Group, who played a part in
the contraceptive pill reclassification, is a major driver of
change in pharmacy.
The company's website says 1981, when a group of
pharmacists set up a buying cooperative under the banner of
Unichem, is the date when it all started. Over the following 36
years, it integrated a number of other pharmacy brands, including
Life, Amcal, Radius and Care Chemist as well as the community
health services and medical centres to become the group it is
Grant Bai, the CEO of
Green Cross Health, still refers to himself as a pharmacist,
although his dispensing days are over. His father also a
pharmacist. He says behind the growth of the company has been a
desire to move from a buying cooperative to a primary healthcare
"We worked on the basis of looking at someone in
their home, looking after someone from a medical perspective and
also the pharmaceutical side. Those three pillars form the basis.
"We can offer a triage of primary healthcare. That is
attractive to the funder of DHBs. We are starting to shape the way
contracts and agreements are put in place because we can deliver a
He says while Unichem was a successful buying group
in the early days it struggled to make its way in the primary
healthcare business. As it grew, there was a need to begin
marketing the brand and so that became a focus. Unichem's success
saw other brands such as Amcal and Radius emerge.
"Green Cross went down the process
of getting all the branded groups together because we all had a
common aim at the end of the day and that was to get the best price
to the consumer. There was also a need to package a support
structure around the pharmacies," says Mr Bai.
"There were at one time five pharmacy brands in the
market - Radius, Amcal, Care Chemists, Unichem and Life Pharmacy.
We thought if you take it purely from a consumer's perspective
there was not much difference between the pharmacies, so we thought
let's rationalise that down so we can actually tell the story
properly. That is why we came down to the two brands Unichem and
With just over 1000 pharmacies in New Zealand, Green
Cross Health has around one-third of the market. Mr Bai says his
initial aim was to get 300 pharmacies in the brand, so he is happy
to have exceeded that. However, he says the aim is not to take over
every pharmacy in the country.
"To get to 350 is good and a nice indication, what we
are doing adds value to the pharmacies. We offer good support, we
assist the industry to get stronger, and raise the profile of the
pharmacist and the pharmacy as a place people can get great care
and advice," he says.
"Those are triumphs for the company. Our next phase
is getting more brand equity around Green Cross Health itself so
the public can recognise the doctors, pharmacists and homecare, and
getting a trust link between those.
"It is not about us taking over all
of the pharmacies in New Zealand at all. What we do want to do is
make sure consumers have a choice and that we add value to the
entire primary healthcare sector. That is a reason why we have
grown quite quickly."
So what about the future?
Mr Bai often mentions the desire to have the patient
only tell the story once and that is a drive behind the three
pillars of home-based care, pharmacy and medical centres.
"We don't have enough market penetration in medical
centres and don't have the same footprint as we do in pharmacy. We
want a truly collaborative healthcare provider. We have good market
penetration with community pharmacy and we want to grow the medical
centres to the same level," he says.
"If you look at government policy, this is very much
about keeping people in their homes for longer, so let's keep them
there longer but living well, not just living.
"We want the patient to only have to tell the story