Calgary Co-op Acquires Majority Stake of Canada’s Largest Independent Pharmacy Chain as it Grows Business [Interview]

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Grocery retailer Calgary Co-op continues to grow its business.

It announced Tuesday that one of its wholly-owned subsidiaries has entered into an agreement to become the majority shareholder in Care Pharmacies, with the transaction expected to close in the first quarter of 2024.

Care Pharmacies, founded in 2013, is headquartered in Vaughan, Ontario and has 56 drug stores in five provinces and it is currently the largest group of independent Canadian retail pharmacies controlled by licensed pharmacists. 

“We believe that Care Pharmacies will be a tremendous fit with our focus on growth in health and wellness, led by Pharmacy and supported by Natural Foods and Home Health Care,” said Ken Keelor, CEO of Calgary Co-op.

Ken Keelor, CEO of Calgary Co-op

“This acquisition will follow enhancements we’ve made to our own pharmacies over the last few years, the earlier acquisitions of Beacon Pharmacies and Community Natural Foods, and continued growth and enhancements to our Home Health Care business. We are pleased to diversify our investment in communities across Canada.

“Our strategy is focused on health and wellness. It’s a growing trend. We’ve seen a lot of health care moving from hospitals and doctors over to pharmacists over the years and it’s a trend that’s going to continue as the health care system is more and more under pressure. So focusing on health and wellness, especially led by pharmacy but also supported by home health care as well as natural foods and Community Natural Foods, is clearly an area that we see as long term supporting the population locally and across the country.”

Keelor said the company’s number one commitment is to Calgary and area but it has been taking the opportunity to grow beyond Calgary’s borders in order to de-risk its members’ investment.

“It’s hard to grow by just staying in one city alone. And it’s hard to provide de-risked returns if all your eggs are in one basket . . . We’ve been growing geographically using some of these subsidiary companies that we acquire. They’re strong brands. They know their business. They come with an existing management team. So as we go along we have been looking at pharmacies . . . Pharmacies in general are a broad and exciting space for us to grow both in Calgary as well as beyond its borders.”

Image: Calgary Co-op

Calgary Co-op has more than 400,000 members and 3,850 employees with real estate assets of $700 million and annual sales of $1.3 billion. It is one of the largest retail co-operatives in North America, and is home to food centres, pharmacies, gas stations, car washes, Home Health Care centres, Wine, Spirits and Beer locations and cannabis. In addition, Calgary Co-op operates and is the beneficial owner of Beacon Pharmacies, Community Natural Foods, The Organic Box and Willow Park Wines & Spirits.

“Care Pharmacies has come from a bunch of different pharmacies getting together over the years and growing. It’s basically an independent pharmacy network. In many cases, the operator was wanting to retire or wanting to fold into a bigger business as long as he or she trusted that business,” said Keelor.

“So Care Pharmacies has built this culture of caring and being trusted much more so than the Shoppers Drug Mart and other companies that are very large and corporate in nature. Care’s values fit with Calgary Co-op’s values. It’s about caring. It’s about local community. In many cases, their stores are like a local community hub. It’s not just the only pharmacy in town but in some cases it’s the only retail store.”

After the closing of this transaction, Care Pharmacies will continue to operate as a separate entity. Ali Reyhany, CEO of Care Pharmacies as well as the rest of the Care leadership team, will continue in their positions.

Ali Reyhany

“We saw a strong alignment of values between Care Pharmacies and Calgary Co-op. As hubs within our communities, we know that Care Pharmacies will continue to be strong beacons of trust and service for Canadians and their health and wellness. We have found a great partner in Calgary Co-op and we look forward to continuing to grow our business across Canada,” said Reyhany.

Calgary Co-op used CIBC Mid-Market Investment Banking as its exclusive financial advisor in the transaction.

Care Pharmacies used BMO Mid-Market Mergers & Acquisitions as its exclusive financial advisor.

Image: Calgary Co-op

Keelor said Calgary Co-op will continue to grow its business by acquisitions.

“We have had some rapid growth over the last five years especially . . . We will continue to look at opportunities but obviously we have to steady the ship and grow what we have. Our focus is very much growing our business in pharmacy and our current business. It’s in growing our home health care business, our liquor business,” he said.

“It’s not all about acquisition. A lot of it is about growing the business that we have today but we never say never because opportunities come and go and you can’t time them. That’s why the strategy is very important. And the strategy is all about health and wellness growth, geographic expansion prudently with good governance and of course serving Calgarians as our primary focus but managing their investment in us in a way that we de-risk it and build sustainably.

“Pharmacy if you look at it, in 20 or 30 years is going to be an even bigger business. When you look at some of the other lines of business, we may not have the same opportunity for growth or stability over the next 20 or 30 years.

“So we’re also looking at our businesses and thinking ‘well this is a business that is on trend for the next 30 years’. Regardless of who is running our business in 20 years, they’ll have a solid foundation that we built for them as a management team and as a membership.”

  • Calgary Co-op Food Stores: 22
  • Calgary Co-op Gas Stations: 39
  • Calgary Co-op Wine Spirits Beer: 30
  • Calgary Co-op Pharmacies: 24
  • Calgary Co-op Home Health Care: 4
  • Calgary Co-op Cannabis: 10
  • Beacon Pharmacy: 2
  • Community Natural Foods: 4
Mario Toneguzzi
Mario Toneguzzi
Mario Toneguzzi, based in Calgary, has more than 40 years experience as a daily newspaper writer, columnist, and editor. He worked for 35 years at the Calgary Herald covering sports, crime, politics, health, faith, city and breaking news, and business. He is the Senior News Editor with Retail Insider in addition to working as a freelance writer and consultant in communications and media relations/training. Mario was named as a RETHINK Retail Top Retail Expert in 2024.

1 COMMENT

  1. It’s a shame that they have dropped the quality of customer service in their grocery stores though . Their service used to be top notch, never to be outdone by competitors. Now they always seem to be short staffed . Making it hard to digest their higher prices. We wait in line longer and watch some of the staff there trying to deal with angry customers because of it. Now with this article. I wonder if they are wanting out of the grocery business altogether.

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