Analysis: Why PPP prescribed shops - PPP healthcare’s plans to open a chain of high-street shops aims to stir up a stagnating healthcare market, writes Patrick Barrett

Private medical company PPP healthcare is to prescribe its customers a course of face-to-face personal care by launching its brand on the high street with a chain of one-stop health shops.

Private medical company PPP healthcare is to prescribe its

customers a course of face-to-face personal care by launching its brand

on the high street with a chain of one-stop health shops.

The initiative is part of a strategy designed to persuade consumers that

there is more to private healthcare than taking out insurance against an

inevitable future illness.

But by taking its brand to the consumer on the street, PPP is also

aiming to shake up the private market, which is suffering all the

symptoms of stagnation. Despite spending around pounds 50m between them

in the past three years on advertising, the two leading lights of

private healthcare, Bupa and PPP, have failed to significantly grow the


The proportion of those opting to pay for private medical care has

stayed stubbornly at around 11% while the vast majority of consumers

still rely on the National Health Service.

According to research consultant Datamonitor, the health insurance

market is worth about pounds 1.7bn but is unlikely to grow by more than

2% over the next five years. Datamonitor also found the number of

overall subscribers has fallen from 3.2 million to 3.1 million since


Faced with these figures, PPP has opted to shed the cold and distant

image of an insurance company and approach the market differently.

Focus on services

Under its previous name, Private Pensions Plan, PPP had focused on

selling long-term healthcare insurance, but since it was relaunched in

1995, it has shifted its business focus toward a wide range of separate

services marketed along FMCG lines.

As well as medical insurance, PPP now offers regular health checks, eye

and dental care and a service for women covering pregnancy, infertility

and hormonal treatment, plus a 24-hour advice line.

But to market these products successfully and expand the market, the

company now recognises it can no longer keep the PPP brand at arm’s

length from its consumers.

Head of brand marketing at PPP, Chris Webster, says the company aims to

make taking up private healthcare a more personal process. ’A couple of

years ago we found ourselves in the position where people had allowed

the healthcare category to become a commodity that was insurance,’ he

says. ’We took the position that we should become a service company and

ask what consumers want from healthcare.

’The point is, the marketplace is not as it has traditionally been


We did not spend pounds 30m building the brand just to sell more


It is a commercial market from which we expect to get some return. We

are trying to make people understand what you get from private

healthcare is different and that what you are paying for is to be in

control of the process.’

Healthy rivalry

PPP is unlikely to be alone in its high-street initiative. Its main

rival, Bupa, has also been considering such a move for some time but has

yet to take the plunge.

At the Marketing Forum last month, Bruce Trantor, marketing and new

product director at Bupa, hinted his firm may look to achieve its

long-term goal of establishing private healthcare as the natural

alternative to the NHS by marketing the brand on a community level.

’Changing employment structures are forcing the need for one-stop

shopping,’ said Trantor. ’That one-stop shopping concept is an

opportunity which many organisations are trying to grab, whether they

are financial services organisations, communications or retail. In most

of the development plans there is the concept of a relationship, and

that relationship is based on providing quite a broad product


But if Bupa and PPP are to retain a lead in the market they may need to

establish their brands on the high street sooner rather then later.

There are signs supermarkets want to make sure customers are healthy

enough to maintain an appetite. Both Tesco and Sainsbury’s are dabbling

in healthcare, with Tesco launching in-store pharmacies and making space

available in stores for GP surgeries.

One City observer says the move may prove crucial. ’Healthcare is a

different world from selling motor and car insurance; you can do that

over the phone.

But when you are talking about complicated systems of healthcare, you

need to have a face-to-face with the customer. There is no better way

than being there on the high street,’ he says.


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