AS Watson moves in on the Netherlands

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Hong-Kong based AS Watson, part of the Hutchinson Whampoa group, is
continuing its march into the European health and beauty retail
sector with the acquisition of Portegies Drugstore in the
Netherlands, reports Simon Pitman.

Portegies, which was founded in 1865 and currently employs 280 people in 38 outlets scattered throughout the Netherlands, with the stores centred in Randstad and the Central Netherlands.

AS Watson said that an agreement was reached with Portegies Drugstore to integrate the operation into the group's health and beauty portfolio by rebranding all the stores under one of the AS Watson operating brands starting from August 16.

The Netherlands is one of AS Watson's key markets in Continental Europe, and the group is planning to expand rapidly in the market as soon as it starts up operations. The plans are to open as many as 100 stores in the Netherlands in 2005.

The move forms part of a distinct move by the retailer, currently one of the largest health and beauty retailers in the Asia Pacific region, to focus on growing its business in the European market. AS Watson says that by joining the group Portegie is now maximizing its growth potential, due to the added investment potential.

In the Netherlands, AS Watson already operates three health and beauty brands, which include Kruidvat, Trekpleister and ICI PARIS XL.

At the end of May, the group bid £222 million for the Merchant Retail Group, a specialist fragrance retailer operating throughout the UK - a deal that secured one of the country's leading retailers in that category.The move is part of what is now expected to be a series of significant moves into the European health and beauty sector in the coming year.

AS Watson has the largest number of retail outlets of any health and beauty retailer in the world. Since 2000 it has had an active policy to expand into the European market. Last year the company expanded into the French market with the purchase of the Marionnaud perfume and beauty chain.