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Walgreens pulls bid for Longs

BY Antoinette Alexander

DEERFIELD, Ill. —Walgreens has withdrawn its bid to snap up Longs Drug Stores, citing repeated refusals by Longs’ management to have a discussion and the deterioration of the economy in recent weeks. The move is one more indication that CVS Caremark will, in fact, close the deal.

“In light of your repeated refusal to accept our invitation to engage in a constructive dialogue that could lead to a mutually beneficial transaction and the substantial deterioration in the national economic outlook over the past few weeks, we do not believe it would be in the best interests of the shareholders, customers or employees of either Walgreens or Longs to allow this situation to remain unresolved for an extended period of time,” stated Walgreens chairman and chief executive officer Jeff Rein in a letter sent earlier this month to Longs chairman, president and chief executive officer Warren Bryant. Since Walgreens stepped forward at the 11th hour in September with its unsolicited bid to acquire Longs and attempt to pull the plug on the deal that Longs’ management already had reached with CVS, the twists and turns have been plentiful.

Walgreens’ proposed bid immediately raised the eyebrows of several industry analysts—and Longs’ management—given the likely regulatory hurdles and substantial store divestitures.

Longs twice rebuffed Walgreens’ unsolicited bid to acquire the chain, but Walgreens maintained—at least until now—that it was prepared to go directly to Longs’ stockholders.

Stepping in to challenge Longs’ antitrust arguments was CtW Investment Group, which stated that it had hired a law firm to analyze the potential Walgreens/Longs deal, which concluded no significant risks or antitrust concerns should exist.

According to CVS, the antitrust analysis, however, was riddled with “inaccuracies and analytic deficiencies.”

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Battery makers upgrade power sources, get more shelf space

BY Mike Duff

LOS ANGELES and ST. LOUIS, Mo. As new products keep rolling in from major battery brand manufacturers, retailers are updating their marketing to maximize the potential of increasingly specific product functions.

On Aug. 18, Energizer announced the launch of its new Advanced Lithium battery, one designed to reliably power wireless gaming accessories, digital cameras, hand-held games or MP3 players.

Five weeks earlier, Panasonic introduced the EVOLTA battery, which it characterized as the world’s longest lasting AA alkaline battery cell in more devices. EVOLTA represents a certain resistance to battery specialization. “We see the trend in batteries going toward more ‘middle-drain’ applications as the reduction in power consumption needs of appliances has resulted in less high-drain devices needing primary battery power. EVOLTA eliminates the confusion for consumers and gives them confidence that our battery will perform well across many applications,” said Matt Sora, vice president of sales and marketing.

While others keyed on batteries, Duracell focused on the kind of line extensions. Among the new products debuted was Duracell Daylite, the cornerstone of new flashlight line designed to take LED lighting to the next level, the company stated, by capturing and using 100 of the light generated versus 70 percent in more typical instances. The flashlight introduction came hard on the heels of the debut of Duracell’s My Pocket Charger and the PowerSource Mini, which were developed to complement cell phones, BlackBerrys and MP3 players.

Ultimately, said Duracell spokesman Kurt Iverson, battery producers are bringing technology to bear in developing more effective, longer lasting products that use innovation to provide power more efficiently. “In the case of the Daylite flashlight, it’s getting a product to work using less battery power and still produce a brighter beam of light,” he said.

The involvement of major battery brands in a range of portable energy dependent items certainly is stretching traditional brand boundaries and merchandising concepts as well.

Jacqueline Burwitz, spokeswoman for Energizer said that, while the brand remains the one that keeps on going and going, the company’s merchandising support has evolved with its product line. “It has changed. Now it’s a matter of pairing the right battery with the right device,” she said.

Battery makers have encouraged many retailers to create ancillary product display spaces that complement the products they power, but drug chains haven’t necessarily bitten, as many prefer to depend on a battery center merchandising program. “We have those sections,” said Stacy Rinehart, a USA Drug spokeswoman. “We have our batteries in those displays.”

That doesn’t necessarily mean, however, that drug chains aren’t changing to the existing market.

Rather than develop secondary displays, Walgreens focuses on appropriately expanding its battery centers to make it easier to shop for specific applications, said Robert Elfinger, a company spokesman. 

“The battery section has grown significantly,” he said. “Customers are starting to understand that high-draining devices such as digital cameras are getting specific batteries, and they are looking for some of the new high-tech batteries. We’re expanding the battery sections to accommodate them.”

Thus, drug chains, for the most part, feel as if a battery center, usually conspicuously positioned, makes sense in terms of both attracting customers and return from floor space, as it can keep pace with developments in the category if properly configured to changes in the market.

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Survey says 40 percent of shoppers plan to start holiday gift-shopping before Halloween

BY Jenna Duncan

WASHINGTON The National Retail Federation today released results of its 2008 Holiday Consumer Intentions and Actions Survey, run by BIGresearch, showing that the average American holiday shopper plans to spend more than $800 each on holiday shopping.

The NRF’s survey results showed that 40.2 percent of consumers said that they will begin  holiday shopping before Halloween and survey respondents plan to spend about $832 on average on holiday items. This average reflects only a 1.9 percent increase over last year’s average total: $816.69. It’s the lowest anticipated spending increase NFR launched its survey in 2002.

Forty percent of survey respondents said that sales and/or promotions is the biggest lure to where they will shop, while 12.6 percent said they will seek “everyday low-prices.” Only 5.6 percent said they would choose holiday shopping locations based on convenience and 5.2 said it depends on customer service.

NRF president and chief executive officer, Tracy Mullin, said, “Retailers are going into this holiday season with their eyes wide open, knowing that savings and promotions will be the main incentive for shoppers. No one is canceling Christmas because money is tight, but consumers will be sticking to their budgets and looking for good deals when deciding where to spend this holiday season.”

Survey repondents also said they would spend about $51.43 each on decorations, $32.43 for greeting cards and postage, $95.04 on candy and food and $22.61 on flowers. The Internet has seen steady rates of shoppers: 44.2 percent of the shoppers in the survey said they were buying gifts online, flat from 44.3 last year. NRF has said that it predicts holiday sales to increase 2.2 percent over last year, for a total of $470.4 billion.

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