Walgreen’s had a great December, and it can thank an early and wide-reaching flu season for the boost.
Walgreen’s (WBA) monthly sales were up 10.2% year-over-year last month to $7.92 billion, and the higher incidence of flu this season positively impacted it’s sales by 0.9 percentage points.
The gains come from sick patrons buying up prescription antiviral drugs like Tamiflu. Walgreen has also administered 13.4% more flu vaccines this season, a total of 7.5 million doses.
The U.S. is facing a miserable flu season, which has already been declared an epidemic by the Centers for Disease Control. This year’s vaccine is a relatively poor match to the virus that is currently circulating around the nation. That’s contributing to the large number of reported cases, many of which were severe enough to require hospitalization.
Forty-three states are recording high numbers of flu infections, the CDC said. Kentucky, Tennessee and Mississippi are the three hardest hit states, respectively, based on the Walgreens Flu Index for the week of Jan. 5.
That’s bad news for those of us looking to stay healthy during the flu season, which typically peaks in February. But it’s helped the bottom line for drug stores like Walgreen, which provide both the vaccines to prevent the virus as well as the drugs to treat it. Many people may have to go in for both such items given the poorly-matching vaccine this year. The CDC encourages people to get the flu vaccine and “prompt treatment” with antiviral prescriptions if infected.
More people walking into Walgreen stores is also good news for front-of-store sales, items like greeting cards, tissues and cough drops. Total front-end sales increased 3.5% in December compared a year earlier, and customer traffic in comparable stores was up 0.3% over the same period.
Other drug stores may also be benefitting from the harsh flu season. CVS Health (CVS), which reports its updated sales numbers in its quarterly report on Feb. 10, said that flu vaccinations were up by about 8% this season. CVS, unlike its peers, doesn’t disclose monthly sales trends.
Rite Aid (RAD), which has distributed more than 3 million flu vaccines this season, reported December same-store sales leapt 5.3%. The ongoing strong demand at the pharmacy counter was partially attributed to flu-related prescriptions, according to a company spokesperson.
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