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Nielsen survey suggests slower holiday sales due to increased gas prices

BY Michael Johnsen

SCHAUMBURG, Ill. The Nielsen Company on Monday released a survey that may account for the sluggish sales of the Holiday season—49 percent of U.S. consumers are reducing their overall spending to compensate for rising gas prices, up four points from June 2007, Nielsen reported.

Consumers are also battling high gas prices by combining shopping trips and errands (70 percent), eating out less (41 percent) and staying home more often (39 percent).

“Our research shows consumers are adjusting their spending to a significant degree in order to counterbalance rising gas prices,” stated Todd Hale, senior vice president of Consumer Shopping & Insights, Nielsen Consumer Panel Services. “Large numbers of consumers eating out less and staying home more often signal a tough year for some restaurants, but there may be an opportunity for consumer packaged goods manufacturers and retailers to find continued growth in healthy, at-home meal solutions and at-work meals.”

The news could be especially challenging for supercenter retailers, Hale concluded. “Discretionary spending in 2008 is likely to be a challenge for most low- and middle-income shoppers, the core supercenter shoppers,” Hale said. “Although recent store expansions mean that supercenters are closer to more shoppers, nearly a third of households still travel 11 miles or more to a supercenter, and high gas prices will likely reduce the number of quick trips these households make. Supercenter retailers will need to entice shoppers with stronger earning power who are less vulnerable to high gas prices.”

Increased fuel prices are also resulting in more coupon clipping, with 25 percent of consumers using coupons to save money, Nielsen reported, up from 20 percent in June 2007. And as many as 23 percent of consumers indicate they will buy less expensive grocery brands to deal with higher gas prices, signaling a possible boost for private label or store-brand products and lower-priced branded products.

Results are based on Nielsen Homescan survey responses from nearly 26,000 U.S. consumers, geographically and demographically representative of the total U.S. population. The survey was conducted in December 2007, when regular gas averaged $3.06.

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S&P revises outlook on Rite Aid

BY Michael Johnsen

NEW YORK Standard & Poor’s Ratings Services revised its outlook on chain drug retailer Rite Aid to negative from stable, the firm reported Friday. At the same time, S&P affirmed the ‘B’ corporate credit rating on Rite Aid.

“The outlook change reflects the company’s weak same-store sales and our expectation that this trend will continue over the next few quarters,” stated Standard & Poor’s credit analyst Diane Shand. Rite Aid faces a more cautious consumer, strong growth of lower-priced generics and intense competition, she said. In addition, the current environment could make it more challenging for the company to integrate its recently-acquired Brooks/Eckerd stores.

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Boston Mayor decries in-store health clinics

BY Antoinette Alexander

BOSTON On the heels of the Massachusetts Public Health Council approving regulations allowing for in-store health clinics in the state, Boston Mayor Thomas Menino is reportedly looking to ban the clinics from opening in the city.

The decision by the health council “jeopardizes patient safety,” Menino said in a written statement, according to a Boston Globe report. “Limited service medical clinics run by merchants in for-profit corporations will seriously compromise quality of care and hygiene. Allowing retailers to make money off of sick people is wrong.”

The newspaper also reported that, in a separate letter, the mayor urged members of the city’s Public Health Commission to consider banning the clinics from opening within Boston. CVS has plans to open 20 to 30 MinuteClinics in the Greater Boston area but it is unclear how many of those would be within the city’s limits.

Defending its decision to allow clinics to operate, the state Public Health Council issued a statement that read: “The members of the Public Health Council were deliberative and thoughtful in their review of the limited service clinic regulation. We believe these types of clinics, operated either as part of a retail operation or in a nonprofit setting, can provide the public access to safe, convenient, and quality care for minor health issues.”

Officials at MinuteClinic were not immediately available for comment.

On Jan. 9, the state Public Health Council approved rules for limited service medical clinics. The new regulations took effect immediately.

“This is a new model for health care delivery that can benefit many people in the Commonwealth. These regulations will improve consumer convenience and make it easier for non-profit organizations to establish satellite clinics in a variety of settings to serve vulnerable populations,” stated secretary of Health and Human Services JudyAnn Bigby in a statement issued after the approval.

Added John Auerbach, commissioner of the Department of Public Health and chair of the PHC, “Properly regulated, these types of clinics will serve an important function, making care for minor medical care more convenient. The council was mindful of not wanting to create a stand-alone system of health care, so these regulations require coordination and linkages to primary care providers.”

The approval came at the end of a long review process that included two public hearings and the submission of hundreds of pages of testimony regarding the regulations, including testimony in favor of the clinics from the Convenient Care Association.

“We appreciate the Public Health Council’s careful deliberation regarding the adopted regulations that will now guide the operation of limited services clinics in Massachusetts. These retail-based clinics are providing consumers in 35 other states with easy access to high-quality, affordable health care in the face of a nationwide primary care physician shortage. Since this growing shortage is well documented in Massachusetts, and its related health care access issues have been exacerbated by the state’s near-universal healthcare coverage, we appreciate the Council embracing limited services clinics as a partial solution to these serious problems,” said Web Golinkin, president of the CCA and chief executive officer of in-store clinic operator RediClinic, in a statement issued after the council’s decision.

Sparking the move to create specialized regulations for these clinics was CVS’ application to open a MinuteClinic in one of its stores in Weymouth. According to the council, early in the application review process it became clear that DPH regulations governing medical clinics did not address the operation of medical clinics with limited scope of services. Rather than consider applications requiring numerous waivers from full-service clinic regulations, the department decided to create a specialized set of rules.

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