Friday, October 2, 2009

Walgreens to sell beer and wine

Walgreen Co. plans to add beer and wine to its stores, marking a return to a business it exited more than a decade ago.

The Deerfield, Ill.-based drugstore chain expects to roll out the liquor category to stores nationwide in the next 12 to 18 months as part of a broader attempt to drive traffic and boost sales, Chief Executive Gregory Wasson said. The return to the liquor business comes as the nation's largest drugstore looks for ways to return to profit growth. The company is starting to reap the benefits of making over stores, cutting costs and expanding its healthcare businesses, Wasson said.

Walgreen's fiscal fourth-quarter net income fell 1.5%, beating Wall Street expectations.

"We've adjusted our retail model to respond to what we believe will be lasting changes in consumer behavior," Wasson said. The 108-year-old company is in the midst of what Wasson described as "one of the most important strategic and operational transformations in our company's history."

Wasson, who began his career at Walgreens drugstores as a pharmacist, was named CEO in January after leading the company's healthcare business. The retailer already had begun to shake up its insular culture before Wasson took the helm, hiring outsiders for top jobs in marketing, technology, finance and merchandising. The pace of change has accelerated under his watch.

Walgreens slowed the rapid-fire pace of building new stores this year and instead poured money into remodeling existing stores. The program, called "customer-centric retailing," is aimed at creating stores that are less cluttered, more tightly edited and easier to shop.

The drugstore chain opened 35 test stores this spring that have shown positive results, Wasson said, without providing specific details. The format is on its way to 400 stores in Texas and will arrive at stores nationwide next year. The new Walgreens also will have fewer impulse items, such as Chia Pets, and more consumer staples, such as toilet paper and toothpaste.

The store makeover was needed to compete with CVS Caremark Corp. and to battle the growing pharmacy businesses at Target Corp. and Wal-Mart Stores Inc., said Brendan Langan, director of retail insight at Management Ventures Inc., a Cambridge, Mass.-based research firm.

"The Walgreens of yesterday was designed for a shopper with more time than money," Langan said. "It was too hard to find things. They had too many products and too many promotions." As for the liquor business, it signifies a break from the past, Langan said.

"There are no sacred cows in Deerfield," he said. "Everything is up for evaluation." Walgreens had been selling liquor since the end of Prohibition, with an array of beer, wine and spirits. The retailer got out of the business in the early 1990s, citing the complexity and cost of operating the department. There also was some question as to whether it fit with the company's health-and-wellness image.

The new liquor departments will be scaled back, selling only beer and wine. Walgreens disclosed in June that it was applying for the local government licenses needed to reintroduce beer and wine to its national chain of more than 7,000 stores. Rival CVS said it sells liquor in about 4,100 of its 7,000 stores and has been doing so for at least the past 20 years.

By Sandra M. Jones

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Wine Tycoon computer game launched

Ever fancied yourself as the next Bernard Magrez or Michel Rolland?

You might not have the capital to buy a Bordeaux super second but you can put your winemaking skills to the test in a new computer game where players fight it out to become wealthy wine barons.

Wine Tycoon, which goes on sale in the US next month, allows players to create vineyards in 10 of France's most prestigious wine regions including Bordeaux, Burgundy and Champagne.

Commanding operations form their 'Ch√Ęteau', players have to build their winery, plant and tend to their vines throughout the year, hire staff to harvest the grapes and produce up to 50 wines from more than 40 grape varieties.

Players are in charge of all vineyard operations, from grape planting and pest control through to winemaking and the bottling plant.

In order to succeed in becoming a wine baron, equipment must be meticulously maintained and crops carefully tended.

The game has two levels – Career and Free Play, and comes with a Wine Encyclopedia with a glossary of wine terms, grape varieties and wine regions.

'For many, wine is much more than a drink with dinner, it's an all consuming passion', said Howard Horowitz, president of the game's publisher, Got Game Limited.

Wine Tycoon will retail at US$19.99

Lucy Shaw

Resveratrol Shows Anti-Viral Abilities

Italian study finds that the red-wine compound prevents viruses from replicating inside cells

Resveratrol, the polyphenolic compound found in red wine and the prominent focus of medical researchers, may be able to fight off viruses, according to a new Italian study. While the chemical has shown hints of anti-viral properties in previous studies, the new work shows that it appears to prevent virus replication at the cellular level. More research is needed to see how widespread the effect is.

Viruses, from the common cold to polio and the H1N1 "swine flu," are infectious agents that can only reproduce inside the cells of a host, inserting their genetic material into the cells. The new study, published in the July issue of the Journal of Experimental & Clinical Cancer Research, finds that the polyomavirus is unable to hijack a cell for this purpose if resveratrol is around.

"The continuous presence of resveratrol in the culture medium is necessary to exert its antiviral action," said Gianfranco Risuleo, a genetic and molecular biologist at Sapienza University in Rome and a co-author of the study. "[The chemical] shows effects on the synthesis of viral DNA; the action is not at cell entry level but rather at the nuclear level."

Polyomavirus, a family of viruses that can trigger tumor growth, is often chosen for research because its reproduction is totally dependent on the metabolism of the infected cell and therefore can be measured during several stages of its proliferation.

For the current study, the researchers exposed two different lines of mouse tissue, one with tumors and one without, to polyomavirus and then to either 20 or 40 micromoles of resveratrol. (The average glass of red wine has 10 times less resveratrol.) Control groups were not given any resveratrol.

The researchers found that in the tissue without tumors, after 24 hours, 20 micromoles of resveratrol reduced the number of viable infected cells to 80 percent. By 48 hours, that number dipped to 60 percent. With 40 micromoles, only 60 percent of the infected cells were viable after 24 hours, with only 42 percent still healthy after 48 hours.

While the exact process requires further study, the research indicates that resveratrol somehow blocks the ability of a virus to use the nucleus of a cell to replicate its own DNA. In cases where resveratrol was removed from the experiment after only four hours, the virus was soon reproducing freely.

Risuleo added that the results show a definite clinical, if curious, potential for the red-wine compound. "Resveratrol shows a paradoxical effect on cultured cells: i.e. it is likely innocuous at low concentrations while it becomes significantly toxic at higher concentrations, in the range of 40 to 50 micromoles." Risuleo said similar results can be expected in similar viral lines, such as chicken pox (Varicella zoster), herpes simplex and even influenza A.

The resveratrol also prevented viral reproduction in tumor cells. "Interestingly, tumor cells seem slightly more sensitive to the drug," Risuleo said. Recent studies suggest some viruses may play a role in triggering some types of cancer. For example, according to a new study published online on Sept. 23 in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, polyomavirus is now believed to be associated with a rare skin cancer, known as Merkel cell carcinoma.

Jacob Gaffney