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Walgreens reports 3.6% in December sales

BY Allison Cerra

DEERFIELD, Ill. Sales at Walgreens for the month of December increased 3.6% to $6.3 billion compared with the year-ago period, the drug store chain reported Wednesday.

Although Walgreens noted positive numbers for its monthly pharmacy sales and comparable pharmacy sales, which increased 4.8% and 1.8% respectively, overall sales in comparable stores dropped 0.3%. Walgreens also noted that comparable pharmacy sales were negatively impacted by 2.1 percentage points due to generic drug introductions in the last 12 months.

Pharmacy sales accounted for 59.4% of total sales for the month.

Meanwhile, total front-end sales increased 1.5% in December, while same-store front-end sales decreased 3.1%. The decline in comparable front-end sales was driven primarily by the company’s decision to take a cautious approach to buying this year’s seasonal inventory compared with last year, and as a result of a lower incidence of flu compared with December 2008.

Walgreens president and CEO Greg Wasson said, “In December 2008 we significantly discounted seasonal merchandise after buying substantial inventory in anticipation of a strong holiday season. This year, we took a more cautious buying approach and invested 28% fewer dollars in seasonal items for comparable stores. This significantly impacted holiday clearance sales, but it also positioned us to enter the new year in a better inventory position and with better gross margins compared with a year ago.”

Walgreens added that calendar 2009 sales were $65 billion, an increase of 7.3% from $60.6 billion in 2008. Fiscal 2010 year-to-date sales for the first four months were $22.7 billion, up 7.8% from $21.1 billion.

Walgreens opened four stores during December and closed two. At Dec. 31, Walgreens operated 7,651 locations in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and Guam. That includes 7,149 drug stores, 513 more than a year ago, including 55 stores acquired over the last 12 months.

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Wegmans buyer notes spike in household cleaning supplies sales

BY Michael Johnsen

ROCHESTER, N.Y. A sluggish economy has provided a boost to sales of household cleaning supplies, noted Wegmans buyer Tom Gavin through a press release issued Monday.

The tendency of many families to go “out” less and stay “in” as the economy recovers may have prompted a fresh look around the house, he said, “Cleaning products of all kinds have been selling briskly at Wegmans stores in the past year,” Gavin added. “Maybe with folks spending a little more time at home, they’re noticing things that escaped attention before.”

Recent innovations in cleaning products — especially “green” cleaning products — have also boosted sales, Gavin commented, as customers discover new items that do the work as well or better than before, while also being gentler upon the environment. Some products carry brand names that have been around for generations, such as Clorox and its “Green Works” laundry and household cleaners made from plant-based ingredients and minerals. Other “green” brands are newer on the scene, such as Mrs. Meyers or Method’s lines of household and laundry products.

At the heart of the green cleaning boom is microfibers, now used in dozens of cleaning tools, Gavin suggested. “The growth in microfiber products has been truly impressive. … We’ve seen a double-digit increase in sales in the last year.”

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URAC launches Consumer Education Initiative

BY Allison Cerra

WASHINGTON The nation’s leading healthcare accreditation and education organization has launched a Consumer Education Initiative, designed to teach consumers about health insurance and identifies ways they can make more informed decisions about their health care.

URAC developed a toolkit late last month that features republished materials – originally developed by the American Institutes for Research with funding from the California HealthCare Foundation – that have been recreated into several multi-media tools consumers can use to make better healthcare decisions, assume more “ownership” over their health care, and increase their ability to take on new behaviors to improve their health and the quality of care they receive.

“Many consumers need help navigating through the healthcare maze. Often they do not understand what their healthcare plan covers and how to ask the right questions to get the best plan for their individual needs,” said Alan Spielman, URAC president and CEO. “Knowing when to select an HMO versus a PPO versus a CDHP plan can be difficult. Our initiative empowers consumers to take responsibility and play an active role in their health by breaking down the complex selection process into more understandable components.”

To supplement the toolkit, URAC has also developed a free consumer eLearning course, “Understanding Your Health Insurance.” The course covers key areas including defining health insurance concepts; identifying the impact of rising healthcare costs; comparing the different types of health insurance plans; and defining important elements of health insurance, including prescription coverage, case management and wellness.

For additional information about URAC’s Consumer Education Initiative and to download the Health Care Communications Toolkit, please visit www.urac.org/consumers/.

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