CHICAGO — "[The year] 2012 was definitely an important year for Walgreens," Greg Wasson, Walgreens president and CEO, told shareholders here, at the Navy Pier, Wednesday afternoon, at the chain's annual shareholder meeting. "We did make some tough choices to protect and solidify … our position for the long term," he said. "[But] our vision is crystal clear to become the first choice for health and daily living in America."
At this time last year, the primary focus for Walgreens executives at the chain's annual shareholder meeting was justifying the decision to walk away from Express Scripts pharmacy network. What a difference a year makes.
"We did make some tough choices to product and solidify … our position for the long term," Wasson said. "[But] try to put last year in a little bit of context," Wasson said. Because even with that negative, short term impact, Wasson noted, Walgreens filled 784 million prescriptions last year. The company administered more than 6.5 million immunizations. The company opened more than 400 Wellness Experience stores and made substantial acquisitions like USA Drug, Crescent Pharmacy and BioScrip. And more than 50 million customers enrolled in Walgreens' Balance Rewards loyalty program — "that far exceeds our expectations of where we would be at this time," Wasson said.
And Walgreens acquired a 45% stake in Alliance Boots in a move that will catapult the Chicagoland retailer onto the global stage.
Looking toward 2013, Wasson acknowledged a number of headwinds that continue to face not only Walgreens, but all of retail. "Certainly we have a continuing tough economic climate," Wasson said. "As a result of that we certainly have tougher competition," he added. "We're seeing new competition emerge [outside of the drug channel] that we have to recognize and anticipate."
But there is significant opportunity as well. "Regarding Walgreens specifically, many of last year's headwinds are indeed this year's tailwinds," Wasson said. "Last year we exited the Express Scripts network; this year we have a multi-year agreement," he said. The company has cycled through a complete overhaul of its private label offerings, he added. And, by March, Walgreens will have cycled through a change in the company's promotional strategy — a str