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Safeway deal is more than the sum of its parts


Following speculation that Safeway may be considering "strategic alternatives," Safeway executives during their latest conference call confirmed just that — the supermarket retailer placed itself on the sales block. Before that conference call, analysts were already putting two and two together and coming up with two viable suitors for the Safeway footprint — private investment firm Cerberus, also known as New Albertsons, and supermarket giant Kroger, which has just closed on Harris Teeter for $2.5 billion. Any deal would open the West Coast to either Cerberus or Kroger. 

Cerberus is said to be the lead bidder, but Kroger shouldn't be ruled out. But what would Cerberus or Kroger be getting if they purchased Safeway outright for almost $10 billion? In addition to 1,335 locations and a $2.7 billion book of prescription business, there would be some intangibles in the deal as well — namely Safeway's relatively advanced Just for U loyalty program and a yet-to-be launched health-and-wellness platform that's supposed to evolve Safeway over the next decade from being a food retailer into being a health solutions center. 

Just for U boasts 6 million registered users and has been described as "terrific technology, great intellectual property [that is] a sustainable competitive advantage going forward" by Robert Edwards, Safeway CEO, president and director. Safeway is already employing "big data" to try and drive personalized deals for the Safeway faithful. And incremental sales from Just for U users are very strong at about $11 per household per week, Edwards told analysts last year. The program is mobile user friendly, and Safeway has reported in the past that its mobile users spend 44% more than its non-mobile users. 

Then there's Safeway's wellness platform. It's yet to be launched, but representative of the company's focus on augmenting the pharmacy side of its business. "We are very bullish about our pharmacy business and the role it plays in our future," Edwards told analysts this past fall. "If you look at the long-term trends that will affect grocery for many years going forward, it's wellness. And we have a very strong pharmacy business, good leadership there and the business is performing very well. And so it is a key part of our go-to-market strategy. And I think given the trends, demographic trends and the importance of health care going forward, it will have an increasingly important role in our future."

The "good leadership" is long-time pharmaceutical industry veteran Darren Singer, who joined the company in 2011. "In April, Safeway took a big step to regaining full power in its pharmacy division with the hiring of pharmaceutical industry veteran Darren Singer as its new SVP pharmacy, health and wellness," DSN wrote on the appointment. "Singer, who among other roles at GSK was VP marketing for OTC wellness, could bolster Safeway’s ongoing efforts to marry pharmacy with health and nutrition."

Safeway is a predominantly West Coast chain. The greatest concentration of Safeway branches is in California, with 506 stores, followed by Washington with 168 stores and Colorado with 115. 

New Albertsons operates 811 pharmacies that generate nearly $2 billion in prescription sales, according to DSN estimates, and New Albertsons' companies extend across much of the Midwest and into the Northeast and New England states. Kroger, meanwhile, fields some 2,300 retail pharmacies and $8.3 billion in pharmacy revenue across the Southeast, Midwest and Southwest.

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