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Target Corp. redesigns the pill bottle, hoping to grab customers

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) _ Target Corp. is turning the old pill bottle design on its head _ literally.

Target pharmacies this month rolled out a flattened bottle with easier-to-read labels and plastic rings that can be color-coded for each family member.

To make it all fit, Target flipped the bottle on its head, so it rests on the cap, making the label that wraps over the top visible from above. The name of the drug appears prominently on the spine, and a card with information about side effects slips into a slot aimed at keeping it with the pills. Bottles for liquids get a receptacle for oral syringes.

The redesign is the first of the traditional pill bottle by a national pharmacy in some 40 years, said Don Downing, an associate professor in the University of Washington School of Pharmacy and a former pharmacy owner who has consulted on pharmacy safety.

Most pill bottles have cramped labels that leave little room for important information, he said.

``We've all been concerned about font size and readability, and I think this improves that dramatically,'' Downing said.

Besides reducing the chance of errors with medications, Target is hoping the redesigned bottles will help it grab customers from other pharmacies.

``When opening your medicine cabinet for the first time, you instantly know the name of the drug you're taking, how to take it, and that it's yours,'' said Deborah Adler, 29, who designed the bottle and label.

In February, Target announced it would add 150 pharmacies to the 1,000 it already runs, part of a ``ClearRx'' strategy to increase its share of the business.

Even so, mass merchandisers such as Target and Wal-Mart account for just under 10 percent of prescription drug sales, according to the National Association of Chain Drug Stores, and it's not clear if other pharmacies will match Target's move.

Walgreen Co., one of the nation's largest drugstore chains, said it didn't have any similar plans. Spokesman Michael Polzin said Walgreen already offers large-print prescriptions on a separate sheet of paper and labels in 14 languages.

Another large drugstore operator, CVS Corp., said it is revisiting its pill bottle labels in advance of expected changes to some state regulations next year.

``We are looking at all options, as I'm sure all the others in our industry are doing,'' said spokesman Mike DeAngelis.

Most pharmacies have tried to differentiate themselves by improving service times or making themselves more convenient by adding drive-throughs, said analyst Mark Miller at William Blair and Co., who covers Target as well as other retail pharmacies.

``There's relatively less activity in terms of the packaging that Target's doing,'' he said.

Adler wanted to make a better pill bottle after her grandmother took pills belonging to her grandfather. They took the same medication, with different dosages. Because of the similarity of their first names, Helen and Herman, their medicine bottles looked almost identical, Adler said.

Besides the shape of the bottle, Adler banished the drugstore logo to the bottom of the label, and came up with 25 new warning symbols such as the one against taking on an empty stomach. ``To me it looks like a gas tank,'' she said of the current symbol.

Adler began the project in 2002. Her father and several other family members were doctors, and she was studying for a master's degree at the School of Visual Arts in New York. She was supposed to develop a product and bring it to market.

She first took her design to the Food and Drug Administration. But she discovered that, besides the cap, the FDA regulates little about the bottle. So she went to Target, figuring a retailer known for design prowess would be receptive.

``Before that, we never really thought much about medicine bottles. Obviously no one else did either,'' said Minda Gralnek, Target's creative director.

Target customers generally get their introduction to the new bottles by choosing a color-coded ring. In homes where more than one person has a prescription, the rings are intended to help family members keep their pills straight.

Richard Stone, picking up a couple of prescriptions Monday at a Target in Minneapolis, said he and his wife have three or four medications each, and the new bottles help them keep track.

``I've got the blue, she's got the red. It makes it easier to tell which is which,'' he said.

Pat Howell she chose green for her prescription _ to match her lime green Volkswagen Beetle.

``It's my favorite color,'' she said. Plus, ``They're much easier to use, and it's a lot easier to read.''
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