Co-operative pharmacy sale: does this mean the group is back on track?

It's been a tumultuous year for the Co-operative Group - but it's finally taken a positive step by selling its pharmacy arm for 620 million pounds to cash and carry chain Bestway.

by Emma Haslett
Last Updated: 24 Jun 2015

Finally, a bit of good news for the Co-operative Group: it's managed to sell its pharmacy arm, the UK's third largest pharmacy. The proud new owner is Bestway, the cash and carry chain, which paid £620m, the Co-op confirmed this morning.

All has been pretty quiet on the Co-op front lately, given the first four or five months of the year were non-stop Co-op: having lost its CEO and the man charged with turning it around in rapid succession (and that's after last year's Crystal Methodist/massive balance sheet hole debacle), it then posted £2.5bn losses. Eventually, it decided to sell off its pharmacy arm and its farm holdings to help plug that gap.

The pharmacy is actually one of the few Co-operative businesses doing reasonably well: with 770 branches and 7,000-odd employees, last year it posted revenues of £760m and operating profits of £33m. Alright, so those aren't astronomical margins - but at least it's in profit, which is more than can be said for some of the Co-op's other businesses (cough, Co-op Bank, cough).

Bestway may be best known for its cash and carries over here, but it's actually a very diverse business: it also owns Bestway Cement, the second largest cement manufacturer in Pakistan, and United Bank, the country's second biggest private bank. Although how British pharmacies fit in with that isn't completely clear...

Still, Richard Pennycook, the Co-op's beleaguered interim chief exec, said the group will use the cash to 'reduce debt and invest in our business'. It's 'part of the focused delivery of our clear strategic plans and priorities', he added. That's the first time in ages the Co-op has had a clear strategic anything. Who knows - this could be the beginning of the end of its woes.  

Finance Retail

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