PHARMACY

Balance Rewards, expanding clinical outreach emerging as Walgreens’ pathway to success

BY Michael Johnsen

Walgreens posted a first-quarter sales increase of 5.9% to a record $18.3 billion. Front-end comparable store sales for the quarter increased 2.4% in the first quarter, customer traffic in comparable stores increased 0.2% and basket size increased 2.2%, while total sales in comparable stores increased 5.4%. Prescription sales, which accounted for 64.7% of sales in the quarter ended Nov. 30, increased 7.3%, while prescription sales in comparable stores increased 7.2%.

Front-end comps are up. Prescription comps are up. Business is good. And that’s not the story. Rather, that’s the kind of results you can expect from the story. The story is Walgreens is priming a three-pistoned growth engine that will quite likely drive what pharmacy will look like in the future — an efficient global supply chain beast that feeds a front-end that commands traffic in its own right, and a back-end that demands healthcare payers pay attention to how Walgreens can help improve adherence and patient care metrics. So, how can suppliers better align with Walgreens? 

Two things — Balance Rewards and Walgreens’ focus on expanding its clinical footprint. Both represent opportunities for front-of-store suppliers, in particular, suppliers of health and wellness solutions. 

During Friday’s conference call, Walgreens executives more than once noted how its Balance Rewards program, the members of which accounted for 70% of sales in November, would feed future promotion decisions. "While [our front-end comp performance] represents solid gains in our daily living business, as we go forward into fiscal ’14 we will leverage our data and insights from Balance Rewards to improve the effectiveness of our promotional investment," Greg Wasson, Walgreens president and CEO, told analysts. "With more than 12 months of data, we are gaining valuable insights into our customer’s shopping and purchasing habits, giving us excellent information to work with as we sharpen our category plans for the year ahead."

Balance Rewards presently boasts 74 million active members and 92 members enrolled. Suppliers who can ascertain how to drive more trips and/or more sales out of Walgreens’ best customers will be the real winners here.   

Walgreens also touted its growing base of clinical services. "Through our Well Network, we have brought [more than] 400 healthcare clinics, specialty and infusion assets, hospital on-sites, centers of excellence and our other resources together with our 8,200 pharmacies and connected them with partners across the industry, including physicians, health plans, payers and [employers]," Wasson said. "Together we are pioneering new kinds of partnerships and models of care that will create better experiences for patients, improve health outcomes and lower the overall healthcare cost."

"We’ve made tremendous progress in our Well Experience journey to become the most relevant retailer in our space," added Wade Miquelon, Walgreens CFO and president, international, during the quarterly conference call. "But still, we believe we are just scratching the surface of ways we can leverage our best-in-class footprint with differentiated products and services to please and reward our most valuable customers, and gain new customers just like them," he said. "We’re gaining share in retail pharmacy as we are finding new ways to please and attract pharmacy patients. But what gets us even more excited is the tremendous opportunity we have before us, to move from a traditional pharmacy, historically participating in about 12% of the healthcare market, to a company that is increasingly participating much more broadly in areas like specialty, home infusion, workplace health, vaccinations, diagnostics labs, hospital partnerships and primary care."

As those healthcare partnerships grow, the net result will be more patients into Walgreens’ stores. For health and wellness suppliers, it’s an opportunity to partner on merchandising and marketing programs that highlight both preventative solutions and offerings that can help maintain health after a chronic-disease diagnosis. And as more patients take advantage of Walgreens’ clinical offerings, the end-caps and merchandising sets opposite the healthcare dlinic will become more strategic in nature. 

That’s the story. And those suppliers who are best able to coordinate their initiatives against Walgreens’ in-house learnings from Balance Rewards and Walgreens’ focus on expanding its clinical outreach will join Walgreens on its pathway to retail pharmacy success. 

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About 130,000 people use SoloHealth Stations per day, company says

BY Alaric DeArment

ATLANTA — Health kiosks made by SoloHealth are being used about 40 million times per year, the company said Friday.

The kiosk maker said its SoloHealth Stations around the country had an average of 10 million users per quarter, or almost 130,000 per day, with Texas, Florida, California, Georgia and North Carolina leading other states. The numbers were based on "consumer engagements," which refers to a consumer taking at least one test per session. There are currently at least 3,500 of the kiosks in the market.

"We are thrilled to offer millions of Americans a healthcare access platform that delivers free health and wellness services, tools and information in convenient retail locations nationwide," SoloHealth CEO Bart Foster said. "We are now within driving distance of 79% of the U.S. population, which shows the scale and reach of the station across the nation."

According to the company, almost 70% of users have a medium- to high-risk of blood pressure, while 51% are overweight or obese, and another 51% have a medium- to high-risk of vision loss.

 

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Bristol-Myers Squibb sells off diabetes business

BY Alaric DeArment

NEW YORK — Bristol-Myers Squibb is selling its diabetes business to AstraZeneca for up to $4.3 billion as part of an effort to focus more on specialty drugs, the company said Thursday.

BMS said AstraZeneca would pay $2.7 billion upfront, as well as up to $1.4 billion in milestone payments and up to $225 million on the condition of certain assets being sold. The companies have had a diabetes drug-development partnership since 2007.

"This agreement will allow us to further evolve our business model as a leading specialty biopharma company and increase resources behind the opportunities that drive the greatest long-term value for patients, our company and our shareholders," BMS CEO Lamberto Andreotti said. "Today’s announcement puts the diabetes franchise in the capable hands of AstraZeneca and allows us to move to a more simplified operating model with our pipeline and portfolio."

Many drug companies have sought to increase investment in specialty drugs — used to treat such serious conditions as cancer, autoimmune diseases, chronic viral infections and genetic disorders — in recent years as drugs for treating such primary-care diseases as cardiovascular disease and acid reflux have lost patent protection, and those disease states have become dominated by generics. Analysts have pointed out, however, that diabetes remains one of the few primary-care disease states that will remain profitable for drug companies and continue to see development of new treatments.

 

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