Coop Italia, one of the countrys largest supermarket chains is making plans to start selling its own brand of non-prescription drugs at about 25 per cent below pharmacy prices.

Although the cooperative has to wait for the various permits and authorisations, Coop Italia chairman Vincenzo Tassinari says that the company is doing everything possible to speed up the process.

Plans are underway for the supermarket chain to open health corners in three of its stores in three cities, Carpi, Ferrara and Bari, which will sell some 300 varieties of non-prescription drugs at reduced rates. It has also hired three pharmacists for each health corner, who will be on hand to help and advise customers.

Coops first move will be to sell its own brand of aspirin at about half the price of those in Italian pharmacies.

This follows the governments deregulation decree in July aimed at undermining anti-competitive practices. Previously Italys 16,500 pharmacies were the only outlets allowed to sell medicine.

The decree sparked angry protests among pharmacists, who have staged a series of protest strikes in recent weeks. The pharmacists argue that deregulation will encourage Italians to buy more and unnecessary drugs. They also fear they could be ousted out of the market by giant multinational companies.

However, the decree has been championed by consumer rights group who say it will save Italian families up to 1,000 each year.