Drug giant injects millions into city

New $65-M distribution centre for McKesson Canada — owner of the Rexall chain — positions chain for growth


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McKesson Canada Inc has officially opened a 120,000-square-foot pharmaceutical distribution centre in the northwest part of the city, tripling the size of its legacy operation here.

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McKesson Canada Inc has officially opened a 120,000-square-foot pharmaceutical distribution centre in the northwest part of the city, tripling the size of its legacy operation here.

The $65-million facility handles 15,000 different stock-keeping units and handles about one-third of the entire pharmaceutical market in Manitoba, southern Saskatchewan and northwest Ontario.

The investment in Winnipeg coincided with construction of another distribution centre in Edmonton that is three times the size of the Winnipeg one. (Both the Winnipeg and Edmonton facilities opened a year ago but the company is only now making their presence official.)

RUTH BONNEVILLE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Rebecca McKillican, CEO of McKesson Canada, inside the company’s new distribution centre: ’We’re really investing in western Canada.’

“We’re really investing in Western Canada,” said Rebecca McKillican, the CEO of McKesson Canada. “We wanted to ensure we had a top-notch facility to support the growth we are seeing in western Canada and in Manitoba.”

The centre has 87 security cameras, a steel-enclosed, locked narcotics area and a freezer for specialty products. Plant manager Chad Nicol said it would take a plane crashing into it to knock it out of operation.

As is now essential for pharmaceutical distributors, the facility also includes ultra-low temperature freezers for vaccine storage.

Through its distribution network across the country — it has 13 distribution centres in Canada — it has been responsible for the delivery of about 15 million COVID-19 vaccine doses and administered about 4.5 million of them through its own pharmacy chains.

The company owns the close to 400 Rexall drug stores across the country — including 18 in Manitoba — as well as Guardian, I.D.A., Remedy’sRx and The Medicine Shoppe pharmacies.

In total McKesson has 120 independently owned, franchised pharmacies along with the 18 corporately owned Rexalls in Manitoba.

The company is regulated by Health Canada but needs to ensure properly configured service in every province it operates in.

The Winnipeg facility employs about 100 people. During a morning tour this week there were about 30 staffers on hand. But it is during the evening when the place is hopping so that it is able to service 1,130 pharmacies and hospitals in the province with next-day delivery.

McKillican said the pandemic heightened the sense of mission experienced by its 12,000 employees across the country.

“We all had the feeling that ‘we cannot fail,’” she said. “Team members stepped up to ensure we delivered for Manitobans. We think it is a very galvanizing experience.”

Meanwhile the company had to contend with the same kind of supply chain disruptions that have badly hamstrung some manufacturers.

“Canadians should be proud how that has been handled,” she said. “The industry ensured there was a continuous supply of medications. We did not experience shortages. There was strong collaboration between governments, manufacturers and distributors to ensure supply chain continuity.”

But she did allow that McKesson was no different than any other players in the supply chain in that it had to use different levers than it has had to in the past to make sure everything moved in a timely way.

“And, like others we have seen freight costs go up and we experienced labour challenges with the different variants of COVID,” she said.

McKesson distributes about one-third of all medications in the country. Last year its parent company, Texas-based McKesson Corp., generated total revenue of US$264 billion.

But the company is in the process of downsizing to concentrate on the U.S. and Canadian markets. It is in the process of divesting much of its operations in Europe with a few deals announced late last year that are scheduled to close this year.

In Manitoba, the new facility takes over from a 30,000-square-foot one as well as a satellite centre that handles the so-called specialty pharmacy products — complex infusions for cancer and immunology drugs. That facility has yet to move to the new location.

“This investment will really help to ensure that Manitobans have better health outcomes,” said Manitoba Health Minister Audrey Gordon, who was on hand for the opening.

McKesson’s specialty pharmacy supports about 3,400 patients in Manitoba on complex therapies.

The company’s Inviva brand is building an infusion centre in Winnipeg that will be open in a couple of months. It will be the 74th Inviva centre in the country. They are staffed with nurses to administer complex specialty pharmaceuticals in a non-acute care setting.


Martin Cash

Martin Cash

Martin Cash has been writing a column and business news at the Free Press since 1989. Over those years he’s written through a number of business cycles and the rise and fall (and rise) in fortunes of many local businesses.

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