Sweden completes pharmacy sell-off

Sweden has secured buyers for some 465 pharmacies up for sale as part of the demonopolization of the country's retail drug market.

Sweden completes pharmacy sell-off
Social affairs minister Göran Hägglund presents new Apoteket symbol, 19/10/09

Together, the four new actors will control more than half of Sweden’s around 900 pharmacies, which were previously all owned by the state-run Apoteket monopoly. In order to facilitate their sale, the 465 pharmacies up for tender were subdivided into eight clusters by Apoteket Omstrukturering AB (OAB), the company formed to oversee the restructuring process.

Eva-Britt Gustafsson, managing director of OAB, explained that the four buyers would help set the stage for a well-functioning Swedish pharmacy market.

“We feel that this creates a good market structure made up of a number of actors with varying emphasis and geographical coverage,” said Gustafsson in a statement.

Apoteket AB will continue to operate around 300 pharmacies, while the country’s remaining pharmacies will be run by smaller private operators.

The combined sale price for the eight clusters amounted to 5.9 billion kronor ($857 million), as four parties swooped to control a major share of the re-regulated market, according to a statement released on Monday by OAB.

The sale price exceeded expectations, said OAB chairperson Birgitta Böhlin.

“The aim of the pharmacy reform is, among other things, to safeguard the secure provision of pharmaceuticals at low pharmaceutical prices,” said Böhlin, speaking at a Monday morning press conference.

Apoteket Hjärtat, owned by private equity firm Altor, is to be become the largest actor on the market having bought two clusters comprising 208 pharmacies, with a turnover of 7.1 billion kronor and 1,500 employees.

Kronans Droghandel Retail AB, a company jointly owned by Oriola-KD

Corporation and Kooperativa Förbundet (KF), acquired 100 percent of the shares in cluster 2, officially known as Pharmacy Company Sweden 2 AB, which consists of 171 pharmacies with a turnover of 4.4 billion kronor and 930 employees.

Medstop Holding AB, owned by Stockholm-based private equity firm Segulah, secured the purchase of clusters 3,4 and 5, which together comprise 62 pharmacies with a turnover of 3.1 billion kronor and 660 employees.

Swedish investment giant Investor has also acquired a share of the pharmaceutical pie through Vårdapoteket i Norden AB, a company it owns with fellow Swedish firm Priveq. Vårdapoteket i Norden AB has laid claim to clusters 6 and 7, which consist of 24 pharmacies with a turnover of 1.4 billion kronor and 230 employees.

The share transfer agreements are subject to the approval of the Swedish Medical Products Agency (Läkemedelsverket) and the country’s competition authorities.

As of November 1st, Swedes wanting to buy non-prescription drugs can do so at selected stores, including some gas stations and grocery shops.

Firms could start operating pharmacies under their own brand names “sometime early next year, maybe January or February,” Jebsen said, adding the acquisitions still had to be approved by the country’s competition authority and its medical products agency.

The Swedish government has previously argued that putting an end to the Apoteket monopoly would improve the availability of medicines for customers in the form of more pharmacies and longer opening hours, and create downward pressure on prices as more providers entered the market.

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Pharmacy to launch plasters for darker skin

Swedish pharmacy chain Apoteket has told The Local it is hoping to offer a range of bandaids suitable for customers with darker skin tones by the end of the year as part of efforts to cut discrimination.

Pharmacy to launch plasters for darker skin
An Apoteket store in Stockholm. Photo: Roger Vikström/TT
The company, which has 370 stores across Sweden said it had come up with the idea after talking to a number of Swedish anti-racism charities.
“We're looking at whether it's possible to have different coloured plasters but we haven't made a final decision on it yet,” Communications Director Eva Fernvall told The Local on Wednesday.
“It won't happen by next week but we hope to have something in place by the end of the year,” she added.
Apoteket faced criticism earlier this week by a Swedish blogger who runs the website (which translates as 'Everyday Racism').
Paula Dahlberg told public broadcaster Sveriges Radio on Monday that the pharmacy giant was contributing to racism by only offering shades of beige plasters (also called bandaids in some countries) on its shelves.
But Fernvall insisted that the company's decision to trial darker products was made long before the writer made the comments.
“The fact she said that demonstrates that there are heated discussions about immigrants and refugees right now,” she said, adding that the national chemist chain was committed to reducing discrimination.
She admitted that the plaster plan was “unusual” and noted that she had “never heard of anything like this in any other countries”.
Debates around immigration have intensified over the last 12 months in Sweden, which currently takes in more asylum seekers per capita than any other EU nation.
The nationalist Sweden Democrat party is the third largest in parliament after winning 12.9 percent of the vote in elections in September 2014 and is continuing to gain public support.
Sweden's government has said it is committed to maintaining the nation's reputation for tolerance and offering help to refugees fleeing violence in the Middle East and Africa. But it has welcomed efforts by the European Commission to encourage other European Union member states to take in a greater share of asylum seekers.