Woolworths moves onto chemists’ turf

Woolworths plans to have a fully-operating pharmacy within one of its supermarkets within 12 months and the health and beauty sections within another 100 stores will be expanded immediately. The push into Australia's $9 billion pharmaceutical industry was unveiled as Woolworths reported a 16.5 per cent rise in net profit to $609.5 million for the year ended June. It also predicted high single-digit sales growth for 2002-04 and low double-digit earnings growth.

Earnings before interest and tax for groceries and liquor rose to $825 million, up 12 per cent while petrol sales soared 135 per cent to $30 million. Woolworths declared a final dividend of 21 cents per share, to be paid on September 10.

The retailer does not intend to buy pharmacy licences. All but one of its pharmaceutical outlets will adopt a limited-service model. The Pharmacy Guild of Australia president John Bronger said Woolies would find the pharmacy market “tough”. About 70 per cent of pharmacies' turnover comes from PBS products and 15 per cent from restricted items. Only a pharmacist can run a business dealing in those drugs, Bronger said.