HEALTH

Credit Suisse bullish on GNC

BY Michael Johnsen

NEW YORK — Credit Suisse on Wednesday initiated coverage of General Nutrition Centers, the specialty retailer of supplement and nutritional products and partner with Rite Aid in a store-within-a-store program across more than 1,000 drug store locations.

Credit Suisse characterized the GNC stock with an “outperform” rating and a $24 price target, noting that the retailer’s evolution into multichannel retailing along with a strong management team bodes well for the future of the specialty retailer. The fact that GNC is part of the vitamins/supplements industry — projected to grow 6% over the next five years — doesn’t hurt, either.

“Since [Joe] Fortunato’s ascension, the company-owned domestic store base has grown 10% while net income has quintupled,” Credit Suisse research analyst Gary Balter said. Fortunato assumed the GNC CEO position in 2005. “Annual square footage growth will likely be in the 3% to 4% range for domestic stores, which, when combined with our expectation of low single-digit same-store sales growth, equates to high single-digit top-line growth.”

GNC, however, is not without risk. The product mix still skews heavily against diet aids and sports nutrition, and any disparaging news around one of those products could prove devastating. In the fall of 2002, for example, when criticism around the diet aid ephedra was at its height, GNC’s (then owned by Royal Numico) same-store sales dropped an estimated 7% across its entire store base. Numico reported a $1.45 billion loss that fall.

That loss prompted Numico to sell GNC to Apollo Management in 2003 for $750 million, a deep discount to the $1.8 billion Numico originally paid to acquire GNC. Apollo again sold GNC to Ares Management in 2007 to the tune of $1.7 billion, an indication that the specialty retailer had successfully recovered its corporate value. Rite Aid also could become a negative factor, Balter noted. “Although GNC has predetermined volume and expansion agreements with Rite Aid, the drug store chain has a high debt load and is relatively poorly positioned in the segment,” he wrote. “Rite Aid accounted for 3.5% of GNC’s total sales in 2010. In a worst-case scenario in which all of that revenue is eliminated, we estimate GNC’s EPS hit may be 10 cents (assuming a 25% contribution EBIT margin).”

And retail mall traffic may become a risk given that GNC operates approximately 1,000 mall locations, Balter added. “During the economic downturn, mall stores were hit harder than non-mall stores due to declining mall traffic. We view inflation/deflation as a minor threat, as the company has proven adept at managing the business in volatile pricing environments.”

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NBTY names Ester-C contest winner

BY Michael Johnsen

RONKONKOMA, N.Y. — NBTY on Monday identified Marilyn Hatch of Sugar City, Ind., as the grand prize winner of the “Ester-C 24/7 Mom Contest.” Hatch was awarded an eight-day/seven-night cruise for two to the Mediterranean.

“The response to the Ester-C 24/7 Mom Contest was overwhelming,” stated Ester-C brand spokeswoman, Stacia Park. “We would like to thank all our entrants and wish everyone a Happy Mother’s Day.”

Hatch was selected because of an essay submitted by her daughter who wrote: “I have a 24/7 mom! As mother of 10 adopted, multicultural children, she has done well teaching us love is all that matters. She has brought us in from all walks of life and catered to each and every specific need. She’s constantly on the go making meals, sending kids to school, volunteering in classrooms and making our house a home. She’s always cheering us on, from every soccer, basketball, gymnastics and piano event, to helping with homework. When my brothers wanted to go to basketball camp and the finances weren’t there, she gave up her one guilty pleasure, getting her nails done for a year, to send the boys off. Besides having 10 kids and a 13-month at home, she watches my baby every night so I can finish school. No matter what she has going on, she is always there, encouraging, loving and guiding. We love you, Mom!”

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Spotlight on PreHistin in new ad campaign

BY Michael Johnsen

IRVINE, Calif. — Cobalis on Tuesday began airing 60-second television commercials in support of its PreHistin allergy defense formula across national cable and satellite networks as part of a planned $5 million spend, the company announced.

“We are excited to announce the start of our national TV campaign for PreHistin, which was selected as Best New Product of 2011 out of a field of over a thousand products at the recent ECRM Cough, Cold and Allergy show,” Cobalis CEO Marty Marion said. “We are committed to supporting those retailers and pharmacies who are selling PreHistin, and television is just one of the support channels we are engaging to drive traffic, stimulate brand awareness and increase sales.“

The commercials were created to help build the PreHistin brand to consumers and allergy sufferers. The spots present the PreHistin story and prompt viewers that PreHistin now is available at pharmacies, and to “ask your pharmacist for PreHistin today.”

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