North West Co. Sees Pickup in Food Business

The North West Co. expects its food business to continue to be healthy through 2009 “as more people from full-price supermarkets move through our doors,” Edward Kennedy, president and chief executive officer, told investors last week.

WINNIPEG, Manitoba — The North West Co. here expects its food business to continue to be healthy through 2009 “as more people from full-price supermarkets move through our doors,” Edward Kennedy, president and chief executive officer, told investors last week. After concentrating last year on integrating the Cost-U-Less operation, which it acquired at the end of 2007, the company plans to focus more on operations this year, Kennedy said.

“For example, we didn’t do a lot to change the front end last year, which we will concentrate on next. We’ll also start to do some heavy lifting on value-added, including adding bakeries and merchandising those aggressively and revamping the endcaps.”

The company reported increased sales and earnings for the year and fourth quarter, which ended Jan. 31, with food sales outpacing general merchandise sales in both periods. Net income for the year increased 20% to $60.8 million (U.S.). Sales climbed 30.8% to $1.1 billion, and same-store sales were up 2.7%, excluding the impact of foreign exchange. Food sales for the year rose 36.5%, while general merchandise sales rose 10.2%.

For the quarter, net income rose 2% to $15.6 million and sales rose 18.1% to $303.1 million, while same-store sales fell 2.8%, excluding the foreign exchange impact. Food sales for the quarter increased 21.9% and general merchandise sales dropped 11.6%.

The company operates 135 Northern and Northmart stores and 29 Giant Tiger stores in northern Canada and Alaska; 32 AC Value Centers in remote areas of Alaska; and 12 Cost-U-Less stores in Hawaii, the South Pacific and the Caribbean. It plans to unveil a new banner — Island Fresh — in Guam later this year.

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