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'Strategic acquisitions': Cohens buys seven pharmacies amid nearly £6m loss

Pharmacy multiple Cohens was hit with a big loss for 2023 while its sister wholesaler posted £7m in profit, their latest financial documents have revealed.

Cohens Chemist suffered a £5.7 million loss for the financial year, its annual report for the year ending August 31 2023 revealed. 

The multiple increased its total turnover by £21m to £253m in the year, according to the document published on Companies House last week (May 21).  

But its cost of sales and “administrative expenses” also rose significantly, leaving the multiple in the red. 

Read more: Former owner bags £415m dividend from Lloydspharmacy and LloydsDirect sales 

Nevertheless, Cohens, which has “over 200 branches in the UK” according to its company website, did not let the downturn dissuade it from expanding.  

It reported £7.5m worth of “trade and asset” acquisitions in the financial year, which included the purchase of Lallian Pharmacy in February 2023. 

According to its strategic report, the Bolton-based multiple is “always looking to realise value in stores through strategic acquisitions and disposals”.  

Read more: ‘A history of failure’: Weldricks boss blasts pharmacy negotiator 

In addition to Lallian Pharmacy, Cohens disclosed that it had bought another six pharmacies after the statement’s reporting period ended for a total of more than £2m.  

These were two ex-Lloydspharmacy stores, two Boots pharmacies and two Well pharmacies, the document revealed. 

But it sold one pharmacy in the financial year because it was “outside of its usual demographical area” and sold two more after reporting ended, for a total of just under £800,000. 


“Stable core operation” 


Cohens said that its gross profit margin of 27% was “satisfactory, reflecting a stable core operation”.  

It noted that increased cost of sales, product shortages, increased demand and inflation had “worsened” its earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation (EBITDA). 

“The directors will again strive to improve performance and profitability over the coming year by means of divestment, restructure and acquisitions as appropriate,” the strategic report announced. 


Wholesaling business 


Prinwest Limited, the pharmaceutical wholesaling business owned by the same holding company as Cohens, also published its annual report for the same period this month (May 18).

Prinwest’s accounts show that it posted a profit after tax of £7.4m - up from £6.5m in the previous year – and this profit was “transferred to reserves”. 

And the wholesaler saw its turnover rise by £15m to £127m, according to its strategic report. 

Read more: Weldricks posts £1.4m loss amid funding ‘war of attrition’ 

It said that the “majority of sales” were to its “existing customers” and it boasted a “very stable customer base”. 

As a result of the wholesaling business’s success, the Jersey-based holding company that owns Cohens and Prinwest and whose accounts were included in the pharmacy chain’s statement, was able to report a small loss of just £39,000 - down from £2.9m in profit in 2022.  


Multiple issues 


The only company that seems to be coming out ahead in the community pharmacy game lately is the one that has just left it behind.  

In April, C+D reported that Lloydspharmacy’s former parent company posted a profit of £76.4m for the year ending March 31, and its shareholders had bagged a £405m dividend

In March, independent multiple pharmacy business H. I. Weldrick posted a £1.4m loss after tax in the last financial year – up from £893,000 in 2022. 

Read more: Paydens ‘focused’ on meeting sector challenges amid £6m loss in 2023 

In an interview with C+D, Weldricks operations director David Vanns railed against the state of funding for the sector, saying that pharmacy negotiator Community Pharmacy England (CPE) “negotiated a lot of losses for people this year”. 

In February, the latest financial documents from Paydens Pharmacy revealed a sudden drop in earnings “directly caused by the flat rate of pharmacy funding” - its 2023 loss amounted to £6.4 million. 

Read more: Avicenna pharmacies ‘feel the squeeze’ amid branch disposal plans 

And in January, sales director for the Avicenna Group Brij Valla told C+D that while Avicenna Retail showed superficially positive figures in the annual report, the reality was that acquisitions in the previous year meant these were not like-for-like results and the underlying performance was more in line with the rest of the sector. 

An “extension of the current model” would lead to “significant closures”, Valla warned.

In November, Rowlands posted its financial statements, which revealed it had experienced a 500% increase in losses for the financial year, rising to a daunting £219m

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