April 2021

· 3 min read

Setting the Standard With NSF: Health Retail as a Public Health Partner

NSF International’s VP, Martin Lush, and Salesforce’s VP and GM for Retail, Rob Garf, discuss the role of retail in vaccine distribution.
Rob Garf and Martin Lush

If COVID-19 has taught us anything, it is that the old ways of thinking will not cut it in the pandemic era. NSF International’s Global Vice President, Health Sciences, Martin Lush, sat down with Salesforce’s Vice President and General Manager for Retail, Rob Garf, to talk about the necessity of cross-industry collaboration to deliver effective solutions, mainly for vaccine creation and distribution. Industries, governments and sectors across the globe need to come together to solve these types of complex problems.

Rob’s deep expertise in the retail sector brought a fascinating, fresh perspective in contrast to the traditional health science frame of mind. What role is retail playing in the effective and safe distribution of COVID-19 vaccines? How can retail introduce “rebel thinking,” or bold, diverse ideas, into government and traditional health care systems?

Like Salesforce, countless businesses in the global retail industry have had to adapt to provide vaccine distribution solutions. Supply chains were outdated and legacy health care systems proved unequipped to manage large-scale distribution. Throw in complex regulatory and governmental challenges and it is extraordinary that they managed at all.

But manage they did and many thrived. A commitment to the common good is driving the cross-industry effort, and retail in particular is well positioned to respond to the urgency of the consumer demand for vaccines.

Martin Lush discusses collaboration between science organizations in the midst of the pandemic.

The Ability to Pivot

One of the main themes of the discussion with Rob was agility in the face of unprecedented demands presented by the pandemic. The retail sector was able to step in so seamlessly because its inherent function is the quick and systematic distribution of goods. That’s what retailers do for a living.

This is a wider lesson for all industries. When faced by a threat such as COVID-19, our ability to be nimble and to adapt existing systems is crucial. When asked for the single most important attribute retail has shown over the past 12 months, Rob immediately answered “agility.”

Rob Garf discusses retail and the values of resiliency and agility.

We’ve seen bricks-and-mortar retail stores become vaccine distribution centers and innovative delivery operations employed so that vaccines can reach people in more remote locations. Only when pushed has retail, and broader society for that matter, seen what it is capable of.

Collaboration Underpins Success

Times of crisis often force siloed industries to collaborate, and over the past 15 months that has been the case for health and retail. Effective vaccine distribution requires constructive communication between all the key stakeholders: the pharmaceutical industry, the retail industry, business, central government, local government, supply chains and many more. Retail will continue playing a key role by being part of this conversation, and joining the cross-party effort.

The Intersection of Health and Retail

The companies best positioned to meet the needs of customers going forward will be those that are at the intersection of health and retail. Brands are increasingly thinking about health and well-being products, such as tracking devices, and we’re seeing a crossover between public health and retail.

The outlook for the retail sector looks to be defined in part by its growing association with health products, with vaccine distribution as the proof point.

Rob Garf discusses the intersection of health retail and how they will continue to converge.

So will these changes be long-lasting or will we all revert to type after the pandemic? We can divide the two schools of thought broadly between optimists and pessimists. Will this newly formed collaboration between key stakeholders remain? Or will self-interest resume?

Both Martin and Rob are firmly in the positive camp. As Rob put it, Salesforce underwent a shift from “shareholder management to stakeholder management” during the pandemic. The needs of its customers and broader society changed, and so retail changed with them.

Long may this spirit of collaboration prevail.

Watch the full interview below.