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Rite Aid sees February sales improvement

CAMP HILL, Pa. (AP) -- Rite Aid Corp.'s overall drugstore revenue grew last month and in its fiscal fourth quarter while a key measurement of store performance also improved.

The Camp Hill, Pa., company said Thursday total drugstore revenue for the five-week period that ended March 3 rose 2.3 percent to $2.55 billion. Revenue for the 14-week quarter rose 2.5 percent to $7.12 billion.

Revenue at stores open at least a year climbed 3.1 percent in February compared to the same period last year, as pharmacy sales at those stores increased 3.7 percent despite the introduction of generic drugs, which are cheaper than their brand-name equivalents. Sales at the rest of the store edged up 1.9 percent.

Revenue at stores open at least a year is considered a key indicator of retailer health because it leaves out results from locations that have opened or closed in the last year.

Spokeswoman Susan Henderson said Rite Aid's pharmacy sales benefited from a contract dispute between competitor Walgreen Co. and pharmacy benefits manger Express Scripts Inc.

Express Scripts had paid Walgreen to fill prescriptions, but a contract between those companies expired in December. The split meant many Express Scripts customers had to find new drugstores to fill their prescriptions.

Henderson also said Rite Aid's performance was helped by a strong Valentine's Day and cosmetics, beverages and vitamins sales.

Rite Aid is the third-largest U.S. drugstore chain, trailing both Walgreen Co. and CVS Caremark Corp. Rite Aid operated 4,667 stores on March 3, down from 4,714 in the same period last year.

Company shares edged up 2 cents to $1.71 in morning trading Thursday while broader trading indexes also rose slightly.