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Kroger agrees to buy Axium Pharmacy

NEW YORK (AP) -- Supermarket and convenience store operator Kroger Co. said Thursday it will buy specialty pharmacy company Axium Pharmacy for undisclosed terms.

Kroger runs 2,425 supermarkets, making it the biggest traditional supermarket operator, and 1,950 pharmacies as well as clinics and fuel centers. It said Axium provides drugs and patient support services for patients with chronic or genetic conditions and other complex medical problems including cancer, hepatitis C, rheumatoid arthritis, and multiple sclerosis.

Axium, based in Lake Mary, Fla., runs pharmacies in Tennessee, Mississippi, and Puerto Rico.

The purchase comes as Kroger fights to hang onto shoppers as it faces intensifying competition from big-box retailers, drug stores and specialty grocers. Supermarkets are also paying more to stock their shelves as a result of rising commodity costs. The company, which runs stores under names like Kroger, Fred Meyer and Ralphs, has been trying to counteract those trends with its customer loyalty program, new store formats, and by introducing more store-brand items.

Kroger also said it would start selling clothes at its Marketplace store in Ohio.

In October the Cincinnati company raised its earnings-per-share guidance, saying it expects its income to grow 8 to 11 percent per year in the coming years.

Kroger shares dipped 3 cents to $24.44 in midday trading.