Monday, June 14, 2010

Drug Store Wars


Recent developments concerning Walgreens and CVS point to changes in their stores and company interactions. These range from alterations in store layout and product offerings to new rules concerning prescriptions. Both of these tenants are huge players in the net lease market and these shifts could change the way investors view them.

CVS to Expand Grocery Aisles

CVS plans to expand grocery aisles in 3,000 of their stores during 2010. They will be doubled in size, giving the company more exposure to the trillion dollar U.S. food market. Many see this as continuation of “channel blurring”, a trend which has been embraced by many retailers. As reported by the Patriot Ledger “Just as supermarkets have expanded pharmacy and health and beauty sections in the past decade, drugstores are retaliating by putting food products in the forefront.” Cleary CVS is jumping in head first by modifying 43% of their 7,000 nationwide stores.

Walgreens to Sell Beer and Wine Again

Walgreens is breaking a nearly 15 year self-imposed ban on the sale of alcohol in their stores by reintroducing beer and wine. So far 3,100 (41.3%) of their stores have already been stocked, with plans to increase that number to 5,000 by years end. Previously the sale of alcohol and other spirits made up 10% of Walgreens total sales, indicating a likely increase in sales this year. Other drugstores such as CVS and Rite Aid have continually sold alcohol. It is available in 4,300 (61.4%) of CVS stores and 28 of the 31 states Rite Aid operates.

CVS to Exclude Walgreens from Retail Pharmacy Network

CVS Caremark has stated it will end their retail pharmacy partnership with Walgreens in roughly 30 days. This occurred in response to Walgreens announcement that it will no longer participate in new CVS managed prescription drug plans. Thus, the pharmacy networks of the two will become mutually exclusive forcing customers to one or the other. This certainly heightens the competition for customers between the two and could increase marketing to that effect.

Looking at the situation from an investor’s standpoint, the first two changes are certainly positive. CVS expanding their food section is in line with a nascent trend of frugality and “back to basics” purchase behavior. Walgreens on the other hand is opening itself up to the conclusively popular trade in alcohol which should only benefit their store revenues. The only trend which could be perceived as worrisome is the segregation of prescription customers. Forcing an exclusive choice could lead to higher costs to maintain and attract new customers. However, such fears maybe overblown. A little competition never hurt anyone.

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