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Lawson shopping for health-savvy foreign drugstores

Bloomberg

Lawson Inc. is looking to buy or invest in drugstores in the United States and Europe and use their expertise to expand its domestic health care business.

Japan’s second-biggest convenience store chain plans to open one-stop shops catering to the rising number of health-conscious consumers who eat nutritiously and take dietary supplements and drugs, Chief Executive Officer Takeshi Niinami said in an interview Wednesday.

Lawson hopes that investing in foreign drugstores will help it adapt their expertise to the Japanese market, he said.

The chain, which bought about 5 percent of pharmacy operator Qol Co. last year, is strengthening its health-related business to differentiate itself from its competitors. Lawson’s profit has grown 50 percent over the past five years, compared with 5.7 percent for larger rival Seven & I Holdings Co.

“We see more business opportunity if we can absorb the know-how of U.S. or European drugstores and put it into practice in Japan and China,” whose populations are aging rapidly, he said.

Lawson plans to expand sales of drugs and its offerings of low-carbohydrate, low-calorie food for health-conscious customers, such as diabetics, among other healthy options, Niinami said.

The company hasn’t started talks with any acquisition targets and hasn’t decided how much to spend, he said.

Lawson’s shares have gained 37 percent this year, slightly behind the 39 percent climb of the broad Topix index and the 61 percent surge of Seven & I.

Lawson ran 11,249 outlets in Japan and 461 stores overseas as of May.