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Publix_store-Hoover_AL_copy.jpg Publix Super Markets
Publix estimated that COVID-19 impacted its sales by $900 million, or 7.8%, in the 2021 first quarter.

Publix sales edge up in first quarter

Southeastern grocer cycles prior-year upsurge triggered by pandemic

In what’s shaping up to be an industrywide trend, Publix Super Markets posted smaller sales gains in its fiscal 2021 first quarter versus a year ago as it cycled the beginning of a growth spurt driven by COVID-19 panic-buying.

Publix said Monday that, for the quarter ended March 27, sales totaled $11.7 billion, up 3.9% from $11.2 billion a year earlier, when the Lakeland, Fla.-based grocer reported a 16.1% increase. Same-store sales rose 2.4% year over year, compared with a 14.4% gain in the fiscal 2020 quarter.

The World Health Organization (WHO) declared COVID-19 a global pandemic on March 11, and the United States declared coronavirus a national emergency on March 13. However, U.S. shoppers had begun raiding stores in the latter part of February to stockpile groceries and other essential supplies such as sanitizers, cleaning products, face masks and disposable gloves as reports of virus cases began to mount.

Publix estimated that COVID-19 impacted sales by $900 million, or 7.8% in the 2021 first quarter and by $1 billion, or 10.3%, in the 2020 first quarter. Excluding the pandemic’s impact in both period, sales would have climbed 5.5% to $10.8 billion from $10.2 billion, the company said.

When reporting fiscal 2020 results in early March, Publix reckoned that the coronavirus crisis lifted full-year sales by 12.1%, or about $4.6 billion. Sales for 2020 came in at $44.9 billion, up 17.7% year over year.

“While our country is taking steps to return to normal, our associates continue to provide the premier service that brings comfort to our customers,” Publix CEO Todd Jones said in a statement on Monday. “I want to thank our associates for their extraordinary efforts since the beginning of the pandemic.”

At the bottom line, 2021 first-quarter net income rose to $1.5 billion, or $2.16 per share, from $667.3 million, or 94 cents per share, a year ago. Publix said the results reflect net unrealized gains and losses on equity securities in 2021 and 2020, respectively. On an adjusted basis, net earnings were $909.8 million, or $1.32 per share, versus $956.2 million, or $1.35 per share, in the prior-year period.

Publix’s stock price advanced to $61.30 per share on May 1 from $60.20 on March 1. An employee-owned company, the supermarket chain doesn’t publicly trade its shares, which are available for sale only to current Publix associates and board members.

Publix finished the 2021 first quarter with 1,269 stores in Florida, Georgia, Alabama, Tennessee, South Carolina, North Carolina and Virginia, up from 1,243 a year earlier.

In other news, Publix today began accepting walk-ins for COVID-19 vaccinations, including the Moderna (two shots) and Johnson & Johnson (one shot) vaccines, for people ages 18 and older at its pharmacies in Alabama, North Carolina and Tennessee.

Appointments for COVID inoculations are still required in Florida, Georgia, South Carolina and Virginia, Publix said. On April 16, the retailer permanently opened its online reservation system for coronavirus vaccines, enabling customers to book appointments for shots without having to wait for a specific day. Publix passed the 1 million mark in COVID doses administered in mid-March and began offering shots across its market area on April 12.

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