Companies & Industries

Walgreen Isn’t Quite Ready to Quit Smoking


Sell ’em if ya got ’em.

That’s the ongoing cigarette policy at Walgreen (WAG), weeks after CVS Caremark (CVS), its larger rival, pledged to quit hawking tobacco.

Yet, on a conference call with analysts this morning, Chief Executive Officer Gregory Wasson managed to not quite answer a question about just how much cigarette business it could pick up from CVS’s decision to snuff out smokes. “What we’re focused on is to help encourage our customers to make healthy choices, and not only just with cigarettes, but with daily habits,” Wasson said. “That includes helping people quit.”

The spoils Walgreen stands to gain could be sizable. Smokers steering clear of CVS’s 7,600 stores will have almost 8,700 Walgreen locations to choose from. By CVS’s own estimation, it will forgo about $2 billion in annual revenue by dropping tobacco.

Walgreen will welcome that cash, but it’s not really the business it wants at the moment. Just like CVS, Walgreen is playing the “wellness” card, betting on surging demand from aging baby boomers and the masses who don’t have the time or the patience to get an appointment with an old-fashioned, hammer-to-knee physician.

The company didn’t mention cigarettes or Doritos or Easter candy in its earnings report this morning. It did, however, call out strong demand for Zostavax, a vaccine for shingles. Walgreen also unveiled a plan to expand by one-quarter the amount of health clinics it operates: By the end of the fiscal year, it plans to have about 500 of them.

And about 100 million people have signed up for a rewards program that doles out discounts at Walgreens stores based on physical activity.

The wellness strategy appears plenty healthy. Prescriptions now account for almost two out of three sales dollars and increased 7 percent in the fourth quarter.

Meanwhile, immunizations and vaccines are up 11 percent in the past six months. “What we can ultimately create is a global, pharmacy-led health and well-being enterprise,” Chief Financial Officer Wade Miquelon told analysts this morning. Even with the cigarettes, apparently.

Kyle-stock-190
Stock is an associate editor for Businessweek.com. Twitter: @kylestock

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Companies Mentioned

  • WAG
    (Walgreen Co)
    • $61.5 USD
    • -0.05
    • -0.08%
  • CVS
    (CVS Health Corp)
    • $83.25 USD
    • 0.33
    • 0.4%
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