Boots sale on cards as owner looks to US

Boots could be sold or floated by end of year as bosses of US parent company put under huge pressure to break up global pharmacy giant

Boots could be sold or floated by the end of the year as the bosses of its US parent company are put under huge pressure to break up the global pharmacy giant.

Investors and board members want Stefano Pessina, executive chairman of the Walgreens Boots Alliance, and chief executive Rosalind Brewer to speed up plans to refocus the business on the US.

They want Walgreens to separate off its international businesses as soon as possible, industry experts said, viewing Boots and other operations in Europe as a ‘distraction’. 

Pessina, 81, who was the architect of the two deals that brought Boots Alliance and Walgreens together in 2012 and 2014, is understood to still support splitting up the business, but is thought to be less eager to rush.

The Italian businessman was chief executive of the group until 2021, when he was replaced by former Starbucks boss Brewer.

Tussle: WBA boss Rosalind Brewer, right, tried to sell off Boots last year

It would be the second time Walgreens has tried to hive off Boots in as many years. The parent company put Boots up for sale in January 2022 with a price tag of £7 billion – but this was called off in June after failing to find a suitable buyer.

Walgreens as a whole is worth £23 billion on the US stock market.

Investors and board members want the business to concentrate on a new strategy which includes moving Walgreens – America’s second-largest pharmacy chain – away from traditional retail and focusing more on US private healthcare. It is increasingly a healthcare provider with billion-dollar investments in companies such as VillageMD and Summit Health.

Boots has struggled for several years. The 174-year-old British chain lost £58 million in the year to August 2021, compared with a loss of £278 million during the pandemic, when it was also forced to slash thousands of jobs.

Boots employs around 53,000 people in the UK and Ireland and has more than 2,200 stores. It traces its history back to 1849, when farm worker and Quaker John Boot opened a herbal remedies store in Nottingham.

Any sale of Boots would likely be pored over by Ministers and regulators as the company plays a crucial role in delivering public healthcare services across Britain.

But a stock market listing could also be on the cards.

The City would probably clamour for Walgreens to float Boots in London, rather than New York.