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Walgreens reports strong March sales

BY Allison Cerra

DEERFIELD, Ill. One of the nation’s largest drug store chains reported Monday a 6.4% increase for its monthly sales.

Walgreens said its March sales increased to $5.82 billion from $5.47 billion in the year-ago period. Additionally, sales in comparable stores increased 2.3%.

For the month, pharmacy sales increased 5.6%, while comparable pharmacy sales increased 2.4%. The retail pharmacy chain said that pharmacy sales accounted for 66.4% of total sales for the month.

Meanwhile, total front-end sales increased 6.6% in March, as comparable store front-end sales increased 2.2%. Comparable store front-end sales were helped by approximately 2.1 percentage points due to this year’s earlier Easter, Walgreens said.

Calendar year-to-date sales for Walgreens totaled $16.47 billion, an increase of 4% from $15.83 billion in 2009, while fiscal 2010 year-to-date sales for the first seven months were $39.17 billion, up 6.2% from $36.89 billion.

Walgreens opened 52 stores during March, including eight relocations, acquired four and closed three. At March 31, Walgreens operated 7,720 locations in all 50 states, including the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and Guam.

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Don’t write off Rite Aid just yet

BY Michael Johnsen

WHAT IT MEANS AND WHY IT’S IMPORTANT These days Rite Aid comes with the image of a pugilist sprinting up the 72 steps before the Philadelphia Museum of Art with both arms raised high. Because if Rite Aid were a movie, right now it’d be in the midst of its own montage.

(THE NEWS: Rite Aid suffers losses, expects flat performance in fiscal 2011. For the full story, click here)

Yes, Rite Aid’s revenues are down even a bit more than many analysts had expected. And yes, Rite Aid is projecting at the outset a net loss by fiscal year-end 2011. But there is a lot of upside to Rite Aid in the coming year.

For starters, the chain is entering fiscal 2011 with a strong liquidity position, a factor that helps the chain keep swinging for opportunities. It’s what enables the chain to pursue initiatives like its Wellness-plus loyalty card program; or to triple the number of qualified immunizing pharmacists across Rite Aid’s workforce to 6,000 by cough/cold/flu 2010/2011 — both initiatives highlighted by Rite Aid executives during their March 31 conference call.

Rite Aid perhaps is making its biggest push behind its new loyalty card program this year, which is expected to launch chain wide later this summer. It’s a loyalty program that’s successfully made the chain’s existing customer base more productive across its four test markets — enticing many pharmacy patients to shop more often across the front-end, for example. John Standley, Rite Aid president and COO, noted that Rite Aid will be blasting that program out with the biggest marketing push it’s made in some time. That kind of big splash will help the Wellness-plus program cut through and distinguish itself from the multitude of loyalty cards already on the market — CVS’ ExtraCare, Duane Reade (a.k.a. Walgreens New York) and their recently revitalized loyalty program and the myriad of supermarket loyalty programs across the country that shoppers carry on their key chains.

At the end of the day, Rite Aid is in a block and tackle mode; or in other words, a movie montage where the protagonist only gets stronger. Because barring any real upsets and/or changes in marketplace dynamics, Rite Aid should be in a better position by this time next year. Short term might look challenging, but Rite Aid is still a favorite for later rounds.

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Wegmans CEO to be awarded George Eastman Medal by university

BY Michael Johnsen

ROCHESTER, N.Y. The College of the University of Rochester on Thursday announced it will be awarding its George Eastman Medal, which recognizes outstanding achievement and dedicated service, to Danny Wegman — CEO of the namesake supermarket chain — following his commencement address May 16 before the 160th graduating class of the institution.

“Danny Wegman’s distinguished business career is intertwined with his stellar commitment to our community, especially to educational opportunity for Wegmans’ employees and for students in the Rochester city schools,” stated University president Joel Seligman. “He is a civic leader who is shaping future generations. Wegmans’ reputation for exceptional quality and performance is richly deserved, and the community deeply appreciates Danny’s dedication to its welfare.”

In 1987, Wegmans conceived and created Rochester’s Hillside Work-Scholarship Connection to help address the drop-out rate in the Rochester City School District. It was eventually transferred to the Hillside Family of Agencies, and Danny Wegman was named the program’s first board chair. Participating students are provided a part-time job, a youth advocate and a workplace mentor at Wegmans or another organization. The combination of work and support continues to motivate the current group of 2,300 middle- and high-school students in the program.

The George Eastman Medal was created in honor of Eastman, one of the University’s benefactors and founder of Eastman Kodak Co.

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