Self-tests, FFP2 … Mass distribution breaks prices and “loots” pharmacies

FFP2 masks sold off, self-tests at cost prices … Large retailers are sacrificing their margins on anti-Covid products, to the chagrin of pharmacists who are finding it increasingly difficult to obtain supplies.

After frost, gloves or surgical masks, large retailers are once again on the front line in the sale of products against Covid. In recent days, there has been a rush in the signs for FFP2 masks and self-tests.

Sales of “duckbill” masks are exploding in France and mainly in supermarkets. Carrefour estimates that it will sell around 600,000 this week in its stores. This is twice as much as last week and even six times as much as before the arrival of the Omicron variant. The brand has even just ordered 8 million more, of which 6 million will be manufactured in France in the 15 factories that produce it in France.

Since self-tests are authorized for sale in supermarkets, it is the rush there too. According to panelist NielsenIQ, nearly 700,000 boxes of self-tests were sold between Christmas and New Years. Knowing that each box contains five on average, nearly 3.5 million tests were passed over the period.

Because mass distribution breaks prices and monopolizes stocks. On FFP2 masks for example, more and more pharmacists are complaining that they no longer find them. Ditto for the self-tests. 45% of pharmacists claim to be out of stock according to a survey carried out by the Union of Unions of Community Pharmacists (USPO) which considers that “large-scale distribution loots pharmacies”.

Self-tests four times cheaper

They buy very large volumes and sell some at cost price. This is the case of Intermarché on FFP2 masks which announced this morning that it was going to sell boxes of 20 for 4.52 euros, or 23 cents per mask. At Carrefour, the FFP2 per unit is also almost the same price (24 cents) and a little more expensive at Leclerc (40 cents).

For comparison, a box of 20 masks is sold between 10 and 15 euros in pharmacies. Pharmacies cannot afford to lose too much money on this material.

And on the self-tests the price differences are even more obvious. While you have to pay around 25 euros for a box of five self-tests in a pharmacy, it is two to three less on the shelves of supermarkets. Leclerc who unsheathed the first and had constituted his stocks weeks before the authorization of sale offer them at 1.24 euros per unit against 4 to 5 euros on average in pharmacies.

Interesting operations for large-scale distribution: on the one hand, because these are premium products that generate significant in-store traffic. On the other hand, because the brands are demonstrating their ability to offer parapharmacy products at much lower prices than pharmacies. An argument that E.Leclerc who has been scrapping for decades with the authorities to end the pharmacies’ monopoly on the sale of drugs will not fail to put forward when the time comes.