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Kroger Co. plans a marketing coup March 1 when it installs the first interactive kiosk to give consumers healthcare and over-the-counter drug counseling in all 64 Dallas division stores.

"Most pharmacists put out information sheets for consumers," said Jim White, pharmacy merchandiser for the supermarket division. "We want to take it one step further and be on the leading edge of new technologies, just like we were the first to have blood pressure monitors in our stores 14 years ago."

The new kiosks, from InfoTouch Health Kiosks in Dallas, use CD-ROM and touch-screen technology to answer consumers' questions in nearly 30 healthcare categories. With a combination of text, video, sound and still photographs, Info-Touch helps consumers self-diagnose their problems and find the right products to treat them.

"The over-the-counter drug market is booming and will only increase as more products switch from prescription to OTC status," said Eddie C. Sollie, ceo of Info-Touch. "People need help understanding these products, and we think our kiosks can be a big aid to pharmacists ..."

Mr. Sollie said there is another kiosk system in the nation, Health Touch, but called it far less sophisticated and dealing mainly with prescription medicines.

Twenty independent pharmacies have also signed up for the kiosks, and Wal-Mart Stores will test them in 12 stores across the country for three months, Mr. Sollie said.

InfoTouch's system is funded by leasing fees-about $2,000 for each kiosk-but will also feature limited advertising, probably by highlighting a brand when suggesting treatment for a specific problem.

The company has begun to solicit advertisers, and Mr. Sollie said response has been strong. "How many ways can you coupon vaginal products?" he asked. "Marketers are looking for new ways to advertise."

Private-label products may also be marketed through InfoTouch.

"That's a possibility," said Kroger's Mr. White. "We see this as a particularly good tool for supermarkets. We get customers in two to three times a week, as opposed to drugstores or mass merchandisers, which only get shoppers in once or twice a month.

"The frequency of our traffic means word will get out quickly, and we think InfoTouch will be quite popular. It's a marketing tool because it's a novelty, but it's also very educational and should help increase health & beauty care sales."

Kroger decided to give up valuable real estate for the kiosks, because it felt InfoTouch projects a "professional image."

"The [screen] clarity is terrific," Mr. White said. "For years, we've said we care about our customers, and this is one way to show it."

Emily DeNitto coordinates Grocery Retailing News.

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