During these turbulent times, the associates of the Ahold Delhaize brands are working tirelessly to support their communities in need. Across our stores, distribution centers and support offices. Together, we make it work. Thank you!
Zaandam, the Netherlands, May 7, 2020 – Ahold Delhaize, one of the world’s largest food retail groups and a leader in both supermarkets and eCommerce, reports first quarter results today.
The Interim report for the first quarter 2020 can be viewed and downloaded at www.aholddelhaize.com.
"I greatly admire the dedication shown by the associates across our brands, who have stepped up to serve their local communities in the face of the immense challenges arising from the COVID-19 crisis. We remain relentlessly committed to protecting the health and safety of associates and customers, and living up to our values, two of which are 'care' and 'teamwork.'
"Clearly, our Q1 sales performance across all geographies was impacted by the unprecedented demand and pressures created by the COVID-19 outbreak. We have responded by implementing additional safety and protective measures, enhancing associate pay and benefits, and making charitable donations to support local communities. The costs related to our efforts will more significantly impact subsequent quarters. Nevertheless, we maintain our full-year outlook that our group underlying operating margin will be broadly in line with 2019.
"Protecting the health and safety of our associates and customers remains our first and foremost priority, along with operating our brands and supply chains smoothly. We will keep monitoring and learning from changes in consumer shopping patterns and behavior. While it is still too early to know which paradigm shifts will emerge from the COVID-19 crisis, we continue to prioritize investments in accelerating our digital and omnichannel capabilities, as well as improving our store fleet, in order to grow our share of wallet.
"Separately, I'd like to welcome Natalie Knight, who was appointed as our CFO on April 8. With her demonstrated leadership in financial discipline and business transformation efforts, she is ideally qualified to help us accelerate our Leading Together strategy."
Group net sales were €18.2 billion, up 14.7%, or 12.7% at constant exchange rates, driven largely by 12.2% comparable sales growth excluding gasoline. Group comparable sales were favorably impacted by 26.9% growth in March due primarily to COVID-19, and unfavorably impacted by -0.3% points due to the net effect of a weather and calendar shift in the quarter. Group net consumer online sales grew 37.7% in Q1 at constant exchange rates. Group underlying operating margin in Q1 was 5.3%, up 0.9% points from the prior year, benefiting largely from the timing of unexpectedly higher sales that preceded the timing of significant investments related to COVID-19. This was a phenomenon that was more pronounced in the U.S. than in Europe, as Europe experienced earlier customer stockpiling in late February, and therefore saw earlier investments related to COVID-19, while the U.S. experienced later stockpiling in March.
U.S. comparable store sales excluding gasoline grew 13.8%, with all brands generating double-digit comparable sales growth due largely to the COVID-19 outbreak. Comparable sales were favorably impacted by 33.8% growth in March due primarily to COVID-19, and unfavorably impacted by less severe winter weather, which amounted to -0.8% points in the quarter. Online sales in the segment were up 42.3% in constant currency. U.S. underlying operating margin was 6.7%, up 1.7% points from the prior year, driven largely by the aforementioned timing benefit from higher sales preceding material COVID-19-related investments.
Europe's comparable sales excluding gasoline grew 9.8%, to a significant degree due to the COVID-19 crisis. Comparable sales were favorably impacted by 15.9% growth in March due primarily to COVID-19, and were also impacted by a calendar shift benefit of +0.4% points in the quarter. Net consumer online sales in the segment were up 36.3%. All countries in Europe experienced higher than normal demand, though in the central and southeastern European countries, demand grew slightly faster than the overall segment. Underlying operating margin in Europe was 4.1%, up 0.1% points from the prior year. The aforementioned timing benefit from higher sales preceding material COVID-19 investments was less pronounced in Europe, and the benefit was offset partly by higher pension expense in the Netherlands, amounting to €11 million, as well as additional planned investments in digital and omnichannel capabilities.
At bol.com, the online retail platform in the Benelux included within the Europe segment results, net consumer sales grew by 39.5%. Bol.com's third party sales grew 66% in the quarter with nearly 21,000 merchant partners on the platform.
Net income was €645 million, up 48.2%. Diluted EPS was €0.59, up 54.9%, and diluted underlying EPS was €0.59, up 49.5%.
We maintain our full-year outlook, as updated on April 7. While COVID-19 has created uncertainty for the 2020 outlook, COVID-19 related investments became material at the end of Q1 and will become significantly more visible in subsequent quarters. We expect 2020 free cash flow to be above €1.5 billion. The upside is mainly related to strong levels of free cash flow generated in Q1, rather than delays in capital spending, as we had previously indicated. While some capital projects will inevitably be delayed, we are accelerating investments in digital and omnichannel capabilities. We remain committed to our dividend policy and share buyback program, but given the uncertainty caused by COVID-19, we will continue to monitor macroeconomic developments.
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Forward-looking statements are subject to risks, uncertainties and other factors that are difficult to predict and that may cause the actual results of Koninklijke Ahold Delhaize N.V. (the “Company”) to differ materially from future results expressed or implied by such forward-looking statements. Such factors include, but are not limited to, risks relating to the Company’s inability to successfully implement its strategy, manage the growth of its business or realize the anticipated benefits of acquisitions; risks relating to competition and pressure on profit margins in the food retail industry; the impact of economic conditions on consumer spending; turbulence in the global capital markets; natural disasters and geopolitical events; climate change; raw material scarcity and human rights developments in the supply chain; disruption of operations and other factors negatively affecting the Company’s suppliers; the unsuccessful operation of the Company’s franchised and affiliated stores; changes in supplier terms and the inability to pass on cost increases to prices; risks related to corporate responsibility and sustainable retailing; food safety issues resulting in product liability claims and adverse publicity; environmental liabilities associated with the properties that the Company owns or leases; competitive labor markets, changes in labor conditions and labor disruptions; increases in costs associated with the Company’s defined benefit pension plans; the failure or breach of security of IT systems; the Company’s inability to successfully complete divestitures and the effect of contingent liabilities arising from completed divestitures; antitrust and similar legislation; unexpected outcomes in the Company’s legal proceedings; additional expenses or capital expenditures associated with compliance with federal, regional, state and local laws and regulations; unexpected outcomes with respect to tax audits; the impact of the Company’s outstanding financial debt; the Company’s ability to generate positive cash flows; fluctuation in interest rates; the change in reference interest rate; the impact of downgrades of the Company’s credit ratings and the associated increase in the Company’s cost of borrowing; exchange rate fluctuations; inherent limitations in the Company’s control systems; changes in accounting standards; adverse results arising from the Company’s claims against its self-insurance program; the Company’s inability to locate appropriate real estate or enter into real estate leases on commercially acceptable terms; and other factors discussed in the Company’s public filings and other disclosures.
Forward-looking statements reflect the current views of the Company’s management and assumptions based on information currently available to the Company’s management. Forward-looking statements speak only as of the date they are made, and the Company does not assume any obligation to update such statements, except as required by law.