Flu, COVID, RSV pushing cough and cold sales to all-time high, Loblaw says

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Canada’s biggest drugstore chain says sales of cough and cold products hit an all-time high this fall.

Loblaw Cos. Ltd. chairman and president Galen G. Weston says the combination of COVID-19, RSV and the flu led to a record number of cough and cold medication sales at the company’s pharmacies, which include Shoppers Drug Mart and Pharmaprix.

He says the manufacturers of multinational and generic brands have had trouble keeping up with the spike in demand.

Weston says the “unusual pressure” on the industry has led to shortages, leaving retailers with limited stock for some medications.

He says manufacturers are working hard to get more product available, but it’s difficult to say when the shortages will end.

Weston says the company also recorded sustained growth in prescription medication sales this fall.

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His comments to analysts on Wednesday came as Loblaw said its overall drugstore same-store sales grew by 7.7 per cent in its latest quarter.

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The company’s pharmacy front store same-store sales, which include over-the-counter medication sales but not prescription drugs, increased by 10.7 per cent in the quarter ended Oct. 8

Overall, Loblaw reported its third-quarter profit rose about 30 per cent compared with a year ago.

The grocery and drugstore retailer says its net earnings available to common shareholders totalled $556 million or $1.69 per diluted share for the quarter ended Oct. 8. The result was up from $431 million or $1.27 per diluted share in the same quarter last year.

Revenue totalled $17.39 billion, up from $16.05 billion in its third quarter of 2021.

Food retail same-stores sales rose 6.9 per cent, while drug store same-store sales added 7.7 per cent.

Sales were led by strong performance in the grocer’s discount banners, including No Frills and Real Canadian Superstore, the company said.

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The grocer also noted a continued shift to private label brands like President’s Choice and No Name.

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Loblaw said Canadian retail food inflation remained among the lowest of G7 countries but that “global inflationary forces continued to increase the cost of food in the quarter.”

“Loblaw’s efforts to moderate cost increases and provide superior value to customers through its PC Optimum Program and promotions resulted in strong sales and stable gross margins in food retail,” the company said in a report to shareholders.

In its drugstores like Shoppers Drug Mart, revenues benefited from elevated sales of higher margin categories like beauty, cough and cold, Loblaw said.

On an adjusted basis, Loblaw says it earned $2.01 per diluted share, up from an adjusted profit of $1.59 per diluted share a year ago.

Analysts on average had expected a profit of $1.96 per share and $16.85 billion in revenue, according to estimates compiled by financial markets data firm Refinitiv.

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