The international expansion of a U.S. drug chain was a long time coming, but when it happened it happened with a bang.

Walgreens, Alliance Boots, U.S. drug chain, American pharmacy chain, Greg Wasson, Stefano Pessina, drug distribution, drug retailing, United Kingdom, pharmacies, Boots Opticians, Alphega, Alliance Healthcare, European Pharmacists Forum, EPF, independent pharmacists, Matthew Stych, Planet Retail, drug store sector, drug store sector in the U.S., prescription drugs, health-related products, Geoff Walden

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Walgreens-Boots: International presence strong, growing

July 16th, 2012

LONDON – The international expansion of a U.S. drug chain was a long time coming, but when it happened it happened with a bang.

After no nonfranchised American pharmacy chain had ventured beyond Puerto Rico, Walgreens has entered countries across the globe with its purchase of 45% of Alliance Boots.

The United Kingdom–based group’s two core businesses — drug distribution and drug retailing — are both international. And executive chairman Stefano Pessina says the company is confident about its prospects and ability to pursue profitable growth “through further international expansion.”

With stores in the United Kingdom, Norway, Ireland, the Netherlands, Lithuania and Russia, Alliance Boots is Europe’s No. 1 pharmacy chain.

It also has pharmacies in Thailand, while associates and joint ventures have prescription counters in Switzerland, China, Italy and Croatia. As well, over 50 franchised Boots units operate in the Middle East and ­Sweden.

And with some 655 practices, including around 190 franchises, Boots Opticians is the United Kingdom’s No. 2 optical chain.

Meanwhile, the group’s Alphega network of independent pharmacies in Europe supports more than 3,750 stores across five countries — the Czech Republic, France, Russia, Spain, and the United Kingdom — as well as the Italian associate. Members retain independence while enjoying the full backing of the group’s Alliance Healthcare distribution arm.

Partnerships with pharmacists around the world are regarded as a cornerstone of Alliance Boots’ overall business. “Our strategy puts pharmacists at the heart of health care within their local communities, and we work closely with them to develop the range of services we provide to meet local health care needs,” says the company.

The group’s sponsorship of the European Pharmacists Forum (EPF) highlights its commitment to independent pharmacists. The EPF brings together pharmacists from 10 countries to discuss new ideas and share key messages, as well as to facilitate dialogue with public authorities and manufacturers.

Internationalization was on Walgreens’ agenda for years, but was delayed when the global financial crisis hit in 2008, according to Planet Retail.

“The deal with Alliance Boots, although surprising in its apparent suddenness and breathtaking in it scale, is not entirely unexpected,” says Planet Retail research director Matthew Stych. “The drug store sector in the U.S. is becoming relatively saturated in terms of opportunities to lay down new stores.”

Walgreens has gained access to emerging markets such as Thailand, “a small but promising operation in southern China” and an expanding Middle Eastern franchise business, he adds.