MONTREAL -- Metro-Richelieu here said last week it will shorten its name to Metro, the better to reflect its efforts to expand beyond its native province of Quebec.
The name change was announced at the company's annual meeting, where shareholders also heard Pierre Lessard, Metro president and chief executive officer, say that, despite recurring rumors, the chain is not a takeover target.
Lessard also said the company shows no signs of losing market share in Quebec to competitors Loblaw Cos., Toronto, and Sobeys, Stellarton, Nova Scotia, which have aggressively expanded in that province's market.
Metro said sales increased 19.3% to $748.3 million for its 12-week first quarter ended Dec. 18, while net earnings rose 10.2% to $14.3 million. Excluding the acquisition of 40 Loeb stores in Ontario last June, sales rose 7%. The company also said it has a 35% share of Quebec's supermarket-chain business, about half a percentage point higher than last year.
The company's compound annual growth rate for 1995-1999 was 6.5% for revenues and 18% for earnings, "far superior to the industry's average growth rate," Lessard said.
One analyst, however, predicted Metro will feel more competition this year and next after Loblaw completes the renovations of the Provigo stores it acquired in December 1998. In addition to Provigo and its Maxi and Maxi & Co. banners, Loblaw has been adding its own stores in Quebec, as has Sobeys, which in 1998 acquired the Oshawa Group, owner of 151 IGA stores in Quebec.
Lessard said Metro will look at any opportunity to form a strategic partnership that comes along, especially in Ontario and Western Canada. "But our strategy is to place the emphasis on our current network," Lessard said after the annual meeting.
He termed the recurring rumors that Safeway, Pleasanton, Calif., which operates stores in Western Canada, is trying to acquire Metro "just rumors." He added that no talks have been held between the two companies.