International News - Walgreens aims to double portfolio

Health and beauty retailer Walgreens plans to grow its store portfolio to 7,000 stores by 2010 in an expansion move that will almost double its portfolio.

The drugstore giant, which is market leader in its sector in the US, has opened 363 stores this year and plans to open around the same number next year. Walgreens has 3,880 stores, but in the last year has invested more than US$1 billion (£663.5 million) in new stores and distribution centres.

Walgreens chief executive officer David Bernauer said that the business will focus on opening stores in the southern half of the country.

He said: 'We'll concentrate our heaviest growth in Florida, Texas, California, Nevada and Georgia, where demographics and growing populations provide the most opportunity.'

The retailer claims that it is opening its store numbers at twice the rate than the next three of its competitors.

Walgreens announced that net earnings for the year to August 31 were up 15.1 per cent to US$1.02 billion (£676.8 million). Sales rose by 16.5 per cent to US$28.7 billion (£19.04 billion), while like-for-like sales were up by 10.5 per cent.

Prescription sales, which account for 60 per cent of Walgreens' sales, this year increased by 21.2 per cent. Its annual prescriptions rose in volume by 228 million.

Bernauer added: 'That will continue, as our focus on providing better patient services gives us a bigger slice of a growing pie.'