11/29/2017 05:36 EST | Updated 11/29/2017 05:40 EST

Jean Coutu shareholders overwhelmingly approve pharmacy chain's sale to Metro

MONTREAL — Jean Coutu Group shareholders have overwhelmingly approved the sale of the pharmacy chain to fellow Quebec retailer Metro Inc.

A near-unanimous 99.9 per cent of votes cast sanctioned the $4.5-billion transaction, well above the two-thirds requirement.

Shareholders of Jean Coutu (TSX:PJC.A) are being offered a combination of cash and stock worth about $24.50 per share.

The deal announced nearly two months ago still awaits regulatory approvals and is expected to close next spring.

The vote was all but a foregone conclusion since the Coutu family and affiliated entities which hold 93 per cent of voting rights, along with company directors and senior officers, agreed to vote in favour of the deal.

The food and pharmacy industries have faced intensifying competition from other food retailers, Wal-Mart, Costco and Amazon's entry in the grocery space with its purchase of Whole Foods.

The proposed merger follows Loblaw Companies Ltd.'s (TSX:L) $12.4-billion cash-and-stock deal in 2014 of Shoppers Drug Mart, which operates as Pharmaprix in Quebec.

Quebec's second-largest pharmacy network, including Jean Coutu and Brunet, will operate as a separate division of the grocery company, headed by Francois Coutu, son of the company founder.

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