Global food retailer Ahold Delhaize closed out fiscal 2020 with double-digit net and comparable sales gains for its U.S. supermarket business, driven in part by more than 100% growth in online sales.
For the 14-week fourth quarter ended Jan. 3, net sales at Ahold Delhaize USA climbed 18.7% to $13.62 billion from $11.47 billion in the 13-week quarter a year earlier, Zaandam, Netherlands-based Ahold Delhaize said Wednesday. Comparable-store sales excluding gasoline grew 11.2% (10.2% including fuel sales). Online sales swelled 128.5% to $755 million from $330 million a year ago.
U.S. net sales for the 53-week fiscal year totaled $51.84 billion, up 15.6% from $44.84 billion in 52-week fiscal 2019. Online sales in fiscal 2020 surged 105.1% to $2.26 billion from $1.1 billion in 2019.
“When we started to see consumers shift their purchases more online at the onset of COVID-19, we acted quickly to shift capital expenditures in 2020 to accelerate investments in digital and omnichannel capabilities. As a result of these combined efforts, we ended 2020 in a strategically stronger position than before the COVID-19 pandemic began,” Ahold Delhaize President and CEO Frans Muller said in a conference call with analysts on Wednesday.
“We are pleased with the underlying Q4 performance in both the U.S. and Europe,” he said. “Comp sales growth excluding gas was strong in both the U.S. and Europe. And our leading local omnichannel platform generated nearly 130% net consumer online sales growth in the U.S. and nearly 75% growth in Europe in the quarter at constant exchange rates.”
Ahold Delhaize USA — whose supermarket brands include Stop & Shop, Giant Food, Giant/Martin’s, Food Lion and Hannaford — lifted its market share in fiscal 2020, bolstering its position as a No. 1 and No. 2 share leader across its market areas, Ahold Delhaize said. Thirty-three Stop & Shop remodels — including 22 in the fourth quarter — were completed in 2020, and plans call for 60 store upgrades in 2021, the company reported, adding that the new stores’ performance continues to meet expectations. Food Lion also has pushed ahead with store remodels and remains the Ahold Delhaize’s fastest-growing brand, notching its 33rd consecutive quarter of positive comp-sales growth.
"We ended 2020 in a strategically stronger position than before the COVID-19 pandemic began." — Frans Muller, Ahold Delhaize CEO
“The store remodels we are doing across the U.S .and Europe should also continue to drive sales uplifts, and many of these are focused on some of our largest brands, in Stop & Shop and Albert Heijn,” Muller said. “There are also new opportunities for increased sales in general merchandise and own brands products in the U.S. as well as improved meal solutions offerings in both the U.S. and Europe.”
Recording 105% U.S. online sales growth in 2020, Ahold Delhaize surpassed its target of over 90% growth for the year. Helping to spur that gain was an accelerated rollout of click-and-collect service, from 883 pickup points in the third quarter to 1,116 sites by the end of the fourth quarter, reaching the company’s 2020 target of 1,100 U.S. pickup locations. By the close of fiscal 2021, Ahold Delhaize USA aims to expand to about 1,400 click-and-collect sites as well as boost online capacity by another 30%, which would come after a 70% increase in 2020.
“Online now represents about 10% of our sales, and we are positioned for additional growth, giving our significant capacity increases in 2020 and 2021,” Muller explained, referring to Ahold Delhaize’s global business. “With our investments in increased capacity and continued innovations, we expect over 30% growth in net consumer online sales for the [global] group in 2021, and we expect the U.S. to outperform that rate with over 60% growth,” he added.
Also aiding U.S. growth will be an ongoing supply-chain transition to self-distribution, with five distribution centers expected to make the shift in 2021. As a result, 65% of procured center-store volume will be self-managed by the year’s end versus 40% to 45% in 2020.
Ahold Delhaize USA also expects incremental sales gains in 2021 from the acquisitions of online grocer FreshDirect and 62 Southeastern Grocers stores (for Food Lion); Stop & Shop remodels; general merchandise and food sales from the “endless aisles” Mirakl online marketplace platform; 2,000 new private-brand items to the current portfolio of 15,000 SKUs; and the launch of more meal kits, food counters and meals on demand across banners.
“No doubt, COVID-19 created challenging sales comparisons in 2021. We are confident that our two-year stacked comp-sales growth rates will be better than they were pre-COVID-19,” Muller told analysts on the call.
“One of the reasons we believe this is because of our ability to capitalize on changes in customer behavior. We have shown in 2020 our ability to adjust our operations and shift investments in a short amount of time, and we will continue to remain nimble,” he said. “Even as COVID-19 subsides, we think customers will work more from home than they did before COVID-19 and, therefore, eat more at home than before. We think the preference for healthy, fresh product will step up even further, and we think online demand will continue to grow strongly. These behaviors portend well for our future as a company because they are the areas we have been highly focused on and already play well to our strengths.”
Globally, Zaandam, Netherlands-based Ahold Delhaize posted fourth-quarter sales of €19.6 billion ($16.44 billion), up 12.8% (18% at constant exchange rates) from €17.38 billion ($15.71 billion) a year earlier. Fiscal 2020 sales advanced 12.8% (14.2% at constant exchange rates) to €74.74 billion ($65.55 billion) from €66.26 billion ($59.2 billion).
Companywide, net consumer online sales climbed by 81.4% (84.2% at constant exchange rates) to about €2.6 billion ($2.18 billion) in the fourth quarter and by 66.6% (67.4% at constant rates) to €7.58 billion ($6.65 billion) for the 2020 fiscal year.
Ahold Delhaize saw a fourth-quarter net loss of €9 million, or €0.01 per diluted share (continuing operations), versus net income of €544 million, or €0.50 per diluted share (continuing operations), a year ago. For full-year 2020, net earnings totaled €1.4 billion, or €1.30 per diluted share (continuing operations), compared with €1.77 billion, or €1.59 per diluted share, in 2019.
“Underlying income from continuing operations for the quarter was €561 million, up 3.4% at constant rates. On a reported IFRS basis, however, there was a loss from continuing operations of €9 million, reflecting the €841 million pretax provision for previously announced withdrawals and settlement from U.S. multi-employer pension plans,” Ahold Delhaize Chief Financial Officer Natalie Knight said in the call. “We also repurchased €296 million of stock in the quarter, which brings our full-year share buyback to €1 billion in 2020. Diluted underlying EPS in the quarter was €0.53, an increase of 7.3% at constant rates.”
Ahold Delhaize reported that global “COVID-19 care” investments for fiscal 2020 totaled nearly €680 million, including €21 million for charitable donations. The shift to variable annuity-based pension plans at Stop & Shop and at Giant Food also accounted for €1.4 billion in costs.
As of the fiscal 2020 year-end, Ahold Delhaize had 7,137 stores in the U.S., the Netherlands, Belgium and Central and Southeastern Europe, compared with 6,967 a year ago, reflecting a net gain of 170. Ahold Delhaize USA finished the year with 1,970 stores, a net decrease of three from 1,973 in 2019, including five opened or acquired stores and eight closed or sold stores.