The in-store pharmacy is rising in importance within supermarkets, particularly since changes to the rules on opening new ones came into force in April last year.

This means that stores opening for more than 100 hours a week or which are in shopping centres can add a pharmacy quickly.

Supermarkets and multiple pharmacy operators have applied to open about 300 new pharmacies in England and Wales over the past year, and are stepping up their pharmacy staff recruitment.

Tesco, which currently runs about 200 pharmacies, intends to add another 100 in the next two years. Asda, meanwhile, which runs 106 pharmacies, is expecting to add 45 this year, and maintains that pharmacy is its number one requested service. Morrisons also aims to open six more pharmacies this autumn, and plans to double its portfolio by 2009 to 176 pharmacies.

Sainsbury's, which has 190 in-store pharmacies, is considering taking the concept of providing professional healthcare advice one step further by incorporating GP services in its stores.

The first GP surgery is expected to open at Sainsbury's Epsom store early next year. According to JS manager of pharmacy, Martyn Hardy, the hope is for some knock-on effect on the supermarket's OTC trade. He says: "We would have more customers who may require treatment for ailments that can be readily obtained in the store."

Some suppliers, however, are not convinced that GPs setting up shop in their local supermarket will have much affect on OTC sales. Reckitt Benckiser trade marketing controller Steve Watson says: "There is a positive reinforcement for the image of OTC but in terms of winter remedies I am not sure what the additional impact will be. Customers are now much more aware that OTC is the way forward with colds and flu."

Like Sainsbury's, Boots has also expressed interest in hosting GP surgeries. However, suppliers are much more interested in the effect on the OTC market of its merger with Alliance UniChem and the roll out of the 2,000 or so rebranded Alliance Boots stores.

At the time of the merger, the OFT reported that there was little overlap between Boots' predominantly high street locations and Alliance Pharmacy's local community settings, so suppliers are watching to see how Alliance Boots rebrands the stores and changes the stock to match the locations.

As Reckitt Benckiser's Chris Brannan says: "At the moment it is too early to assess the impact of the merger. Potentially, there is the familiarity of a well-known brand but this also means different things to different people. The two companies operated in different sectors of pharmacy for different reasons."n