January 19, 2009 / 6:19 PM / in 11 years

UPDATE 1-McKesson to buy right to acquire Uniprix pharmacies

*McKesson to buy rights to 400 Uniprix stores

*Gets first right of refusal to buy independent stores

*Shoppers Drug Mart shares down 0.4 pct

*Jean Coutu shares up 2.1 pct

TORONTO, Jan 19 (Reuters) - McKesson Corp (MCK.N), a North American distributor of pharmaceuticals, said on Monday it will to buy the right to acquire the stores of independent-drugstore chain Uniprix Inc, moving to fend off expansion plans by other drugstore chains in the province of Quebec.

Terms of the deal were not released, but McKesson, which specializes in the distribution of health care systems, medical supplies and pharmaceutical products, said in a release that its Canadian division would acquire the Uniprix banner, while member-pharmacists would remain owners of their own stores.

Ownership of the Uniprix banner, gives McKesson first right of refusal to buy independent pharmacies that carry the Unprix banner if they are approached by a competing pharmacy chain.

A McKesson Canada spokeswoman was not immediately available for comment.

Uniprix Inc is the second-biggest pharmacy chain in Quebec and has 400 stores under the Uniprix, Unipharm and Uniclinique banners.

This is the second major deal by McKesson in the past six months. The company bought Groupe PharmEssor Inc, which operates 270 Proxim and ProxiMed drugstores in Quebec, in June for an undisclosed amount.

David Hartley, an analyst at BMO Capital markets, in Toronto, said McKesson moved to protect its developing Quebec pharmacy business from the aggressive expansion plans of big pharmacy chains Shoppers Drug Mart SC.TO and Jean Coutu PJCa.TO. Coutu is the biggest pharmacy chain in Quebec.

Hartley said Quebec is a highly coveted market because of the high number of prescriptions dispensed there — 90,000 per drug store annually versus 40,000 elsewhere in Canada.

“Clearly they are telling everyone ‘we are here to stay and we are going to try and protect our business from invaders’,” Hartley said.

“It’s a battle. This is one front of the battle. There are a lot of independents still in Quebec and a lot of independent banner groups...”

The deal is subject to the various conditions including approval by the Competition Bureau of Canada and consent of Uniprix’s shareholders major shareholders.

Shoppers Drug Mart shares were down 0.4 percent at C$44.11 in Toronto. Jean Coutu shares gained 2.1 percent to C$7.79. ($1=$1.25 Canadian) (Reporting by Scott Anderson; editing by Peter Galloway)

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