A customer walks into a Dollar General Corp. store on Wednesday, September 10, 2014. in Colona, ​​Illinois, USA.

Daniel Acker | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Dollar General announced on Wednesday that it has hired its first chief medical officer and will be putting products such as cold and cough medicines and dentures on shelves to become a healthcare destination.

CEO Todd Vasos said the company’s new foray was inspired by customers who want more convenient and affordable health products and services.

“Our goal is to build and improve affordable health services for our customers, especially in the rural communities we serve,” he said in a press release.

The fast-growing discounter has more than 17,400 stores across the country, including many in rural areas that don’t have many other grocery stores or large pharmacies nearby. However, it has been criticized by some lawmakers for selling few healthy foods such as fresh fruits and vegetables, crowding out other retailers who would otherwise open up in the areas and sell a wider variety of foods.

In recent years, Dollar General has added fresh produce and meat to more of its business. It has fresh produce in more than 1,300 stores – or about 7% of its total stores. It has announced that the range can be expanded to up to 10,000 stores.

It has also tried new avenues of medical care. Last month, free Covid-19 testing was offered in select locations as part of a partnership with the Virginia Department of Health. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said they were in talks with the company about converting stores into Covid vaccine sites, although the CDC and Dollar General have not yet announced official plans.

Dollar General’s new and remodeled locations will also create space for more aisles of health products and cool boxes for groceries. The company announced in the spring that it is building bigger stores as it is opening more than 1,000 new locations this year.

On Wednesday the retailer said it had Dr. Albert Wu hired as Chief Medical Officer. He previously worked for McKinsey & Company, where he led a team focused on health-related projects such as:

Wu joined Dollar General on Monday, according to a press release. Dollar General said it will focus on building relationships with companies that offer health products and services so the retailer can launch their own offerings.

In a research note, Jefferies analyst Corey Tarlowe said the expansion into healthcare will help the retailer gain market share and increase profitability as customers visit stores more regularly and toss additional items into shopping carts. In particular, drug stores are a place where Dollar General steals market share, he said. According to the company’s research, Dollar Store prices are typically 40% cheaper than drug stores, 20% cheaper than grocery stores, and in line with bulk retailers.

With the effort, he said, “Dollar General continues to cement the company’s moat” as a leader among value and discount retailers.