“In the United States, our sales, measured in US dollars, grew by 3.4% with ongoing high levels of promotional activity. We delivered a strong margin performance, thanks to strict cost control. We continue to actively manage our U.S. pension plans, and in this quarter we settled a multi-employer pension plan for €63 million that limits our liability while cost-effectively safeguarding the pensions earned by employees.
“In the Netherlands, our sales grew by 7.5% in a market where consumer confidence remains low. Our operating margin reflects additional non-cash pension charges that resulted from the revised pension accounting rules and decreased discount rates that we flagged earlier, as well as our continued investment in growth. We are pleased with the strong sales performance of our online businesses, partly driven by the success of our pick-up points, and with our expansion into Belgium.
“During the quarter our cash balances increased significantly with the dividend and proceeds from the sale of our 60% stake in ICA. We remain committed to improving the efficiency of our balance sheet and have increased our share buyback program from €500 million to €2 billion, to be completed by the end of 2014. Our focus remains on strong capital discipline combined with a balanced approach between investing in profitable growth and providing attractive returns to shareholders.
“We remain cautious in our outlook for 2013 but we are committed to deliver on our Reshaping Retail strategy.”
This interim report includes forward-looking statements, which do not refer to historical facts but refer to expectations based on management's current views and assumptions and involve known and unknown risks and uncertainties that could cause actual results, performance or events to differ materially from those included in such statements. These forward-looking statements include, but are not limited to statements as to Ahold’s share buyback, management of U.S. pension plans, efficiency of Ahold’s balance sheet, capital discipline, a balanced approach between investing in profitable growth and providing attractive returns, deliveries on Ahold’s Reshaping Retail strategy, multi-employer pension plan settlement, conversion of C1000 and Jumbo stores and Stop & Shop’s agreement with NETTI. These forward-looking statements are subject to risks, uncertainties and other factors that could cause actual results to differ materially from future results expressed or implied by the forward-looking statements. Many of these risks and uncertainties relate to factors that are beyond Ahold’s ability to control or estimate precisely, such as the effect of general economic or political conditions, fluctuations in exchange rates or interest rates, increases or changes in competition, Ahold’s ability to implement and complete successfully its plans and strategies, the benefits from and resources generated by Ahold’s plans and strategies being less than or different from those anticipated, changes in Ahold’s liquidity needs, the actions of competitors and third parties and other factors discussed in Ahold’s public filings and other disclosures. Readers are cautioned not to place undue reliance on these forward-looking statements, which speak only as of the date of this interim report. Ahold does not assume any obligation to update any public information or forward-looking statements in this interim report to reflect subsequent events or circumstances, except as may be required by applicable laws. Outside the Netherlands, Koninklijke Ahold N.V., being its registered name, presents itself under the name of “Royal Ahold” or simply “Ahold.”
Pierre-Olivier Beckers, President and Chief Executive Officer of Delhaize Group, commented: “We had a strong first quarter driven by positive revenue growth and profitability at Delhaize America and Delhaize Belgium, partly supported by favorable weather conditions. Food Lion repositioned stores continue to perform well, and in Belgium consumer patterns proved to be more robust than expected. Operations in Southeastern Europe were impacted by price investments in Greece and high inflation in other countries.”
“For the remainder of 2013, we will continue to make significant investments in our strategic initiatives. Phase 4 of the Food Lion repositioning will be launched next week, bringing the total of repositioned Food Lion stores to 78%. At Hannaford we will increase our investment in price as we focus on delivering more value to our customers. In Belgium, we have identified further opportunities to improve our stores, assortment and service level while remaining price competitive. As a consequence of our continued focus on our strategic priorities, Delhaize Group expects an underlying operating profit of approximately €775 million for the full year 2013 at identical exchange rates.”
“After nearly 15 years as CEO, the Board of Directors and I have decided that now is the appropriate time to look for my successor. In the meantime I remain fully committed to leading and supporting the company and its 158,000 associates and I remain convinced that we are on the right track as evidenced by our results over the last three quarters.”