Zaandam, the Netherlands, August 10, 2022 – Ahold Delhaize, one of the world’s largest food retail groups and a leader in both supermarkets and e-commerce, reports second quarter results today.
The interim report for the second quarter and half year 2022 can be viewed and downloaded at www.aholddelhaize.com.
"I am pleased to report we had a strong second quarter. Our overall results confirm the strength and breadth of our brand portfolio. Our brands' unparalleled understanding of customers, broad assortments and product offerings as well as the stickiness of food-at-home consumption are giving us the opportunity to play to our strengths and support customers in a challenging environment.
"For consumers and businesses alike, these are difficult times. The war in Ukraine is causing an unprecedented energy crisis, commodity prices are high, and inflation has reached record levels. Consumers’ household budgets are under pressure and household purchasing power is declining. Our brands are laser focused on supporting customers and helping them to manage their spending efficiently. Our brands do this by ensuring access to affordable, healthy food options, expanding their high-quality own-brand assortments, introducing more entry-priced product solutions, and ensuring our highly tailored omnichannel loyalty programs offer competitive and attractive solutions across all customer touchpoints. Our cost reduction programs also help Ahold Delhaize's great local brands absorb cost increases relating to energy, transport and labor, enabling us to keep prices as low as possible.
"By consistently executing our strategy, our brands again built on the prior quarter results, delivering sequential improvement in comparable sales across all brands compared to Q1. This is reflected in our results, with 4.7% growth in comparable sales excluding gas and diluted underlying earnings per share up 11.0% at actual rates to €0.59, exceeding our original expectations. Our brands' strong value propositions are reflected in increased market shares in the majority of our markets.
"This is particularly visible in the U.S., where the consistent and robust performance of our U.S. brands continued. In the quarter, net sales increased by 7.7% at constant rates, and we maintained a healthy underlying operating profit. Net consumer online sales grew by 16.4% during the quarter. Food Lion continues to perform strongly, achieving its 39th consecutive quarter of growth and double-digit comparable sales. Stop & Shop has taken the next steps in its remodeling program with the announcement of a $140 million investment across its New York City stores over the next two years. This targeted investment aims to improve the shopping experience for local customers by adding thousands of new products to the assortment that reflect the diversity of the neighborhoods and communities Stop & Shop serves.
"Turning to Europe, net sales increased 4.2% at constant rates. Despite continuing to cycle prior year lockdown measures in the Benelux, we saw a good improvement in comparable sales, with growth of 1.8% compared to a negative performance in Q1. This was supported by solid market share gains at Albert Heijn and bol.com as well as gains in the Central and Southeastern Europe (CSE) region. With the European economic climate becoming much more dynamic over the last year, operational excellence, tight cost control and disciplined capital allocation are paramount. As such, our teams are leaning in on three key areas, to boost profitability performance to be more in line with Group levels as well as reinforce our strategic focus to drive omnichannel market share.
"Firstly, we will focus on driving volume, market share and customer loyalty with a dedicated program for these tough times. This includes a strong focus on leveraging everyday low-price programs and own-brand product development. As of Q2, brands in all our European markets have introduced tailored high-quality, better-taste entry-priced programs. In Belgium, for example, Delhaize launched ‘Little Lions,’ optimizing its price/value equation on 500 of its most purchased own-brand products. After the program's first month, Delhaize has already seen a 15% increase of Little Lions product sales. Secondly, we are lowering our structural costs wherever possible to empower people, create more agile organizations and capture scale. One such initiative is a new joint CSE strategy that leverages brand proximity to address similar challenges with common solutions between the markets. In Belgium, we have also identified short- and medium-term operational and structural opportunities, and expect to see a stabilization of margin levels and improvements later this year. Finally, we are re-prioritizing and consolidating investments to reflect the current dynamic climate. An important example of this is a revised investment plan at bol.com. This new plan, which follows a modular approach, is less capital intensive while continuing to support bol.com's mid-term ambitions and growing infrastructure needs. Taking all of these measures together, we expect to unlock between €250 and €300 million in additional cost savings cumulatively in the next three years.
"Our Leading Together strategic priorities, particularly our omnichannel transformation, remain central to our agenda. We see that customers value our omnichannel ecosystems, which offer them the flexibility and convenience of shopping whenever and wherever they want. In Q2, Group net consumer online sales increased by 4.8% at constant exchange rates. This includes 16.4% growth in the U.S. offset by a 1.1% decline in Europe. At bol.com, net consumer online sales declined by 2.1% during the quarter, on top of 24.2% growth in Q2 2021. This represents a sequential improvement compared to Q1 2022 as bol.com again strongly outperformed the e-commerce market, which is estimated to have declined at a high-single-digit rate. Excluding bol.com, net consumer online sales increased by 11.5% at constant rates, as online grocery penetration rates continued to increase.
"Looking to the future, we remain strongly focused on our ESG ambitions. For a long time, sustainability has had a central position in our organization. It is one of our four key strategic focus areas, and a critical driver of our purpose: Eat well. Save time. Live better. With the recent appointment of Jan Ernst de Groot as our Chief Sustainability Officer, we will ensure that the full scope and dimension of sustainability and ESG are holistically represented at the Executive Committee level.
"In Q2, we again have many highlights to share. Of particular note is the publication of our second Human Rights Report in June. In addition, Ahold Delhaize also maintained its MSCI ESG 'AA' rating, with improvements noted in several criteria. In the U.S., Giant Food has partnered with Loop, a circular reuse platform, to bring reusable packaging solutions to customers. In light of the ongoing climate and energy crisis, and the importance of switching to renewable energy sources, Albert Heijn is accelerating the sustainability of transport to stores and customers by increasing the number of electric trucks and delivery cars it uses, starting with a 100% electric delivery fleet in 2022 for The Hague city center, with Rotterdam, Utrecht and Amsterdam to follow in 2023. The brand aims to switch completely to biofuels for all transport by 2024 and to no longer rely on gas for climate control in stores in the Netherlands and Belgium by 2023.
"Despite the expectation that challenging times remain ahead, I am confident that our brands are on the right path to support customers and deliver on our goals. Our half-year results exceeded our expectations. We have positive momentum going into the second half of the year. Based on the strong U.S. performance, we now expect underlying EPS to increase by mid-single digits compared to 2021 and free cash flow to be approximately €2.0 billion compared to the guidance we gave in May. Given the strength of our underlying operations and our medium-term investment plans, including the new lower capital intensity plan at bol.com, we now expect cumulative free cash flow of around €7.5 billion for the period 2022 to 2025, compared to our original expectation of over €6 billion.
"Finally, let me also provide an update on our intentions to sub-IPO bol.com. Considering current equity market conditions, we have decided that the second half of 2022 is no longer the right time to sub-IPO bol.com. We remain committed to securing the right future path to unlock value for bol.com and Ahold Delhaize, and will revisit opportunities when market conditions are more conducive. As such, our immediate priority is to ensure that bol.com continues to leverage its leadership position and execute its strategic growth agenda with a strong return on capital."
Group net sales were €21.4 billion, an increase of 6.4% at constant exchange rates, and up 15.0% at actual exchange rates. Group net sales were driven by positive contributions from comparable sales growth excluding gasoline of 4.7%, foreign currency translation benefits and, to a lesser extent, by the DEEN acquisition and higher gasoline sales. Q2 Group comparable sales benefited by approximately 0.8 percentage points from calendar shifts relating to the timing of Easter.
In Q2, Group net consumer online sales increased by 4.8% at constant exchange rates, led by a robust performance in the U.S., which was partly offset by the cycling of a strong Q2 2021 in Europe at bol.com. Excluding bol.com, net consumer online sales increased 11.5% at constant exchange rates.
In Q2, Group underlying operating margin was 4.1%, down 0.4 percentage points compared to Q2 2021 at constant exchange rates, mainly reflecting higher labor, distribution and energy costs, and an unfavorable mix effect compared to the prior year period. In Q2, Group IFRS-reported operating income was €895 million, representing an IFRS-reported operating margin of 4.2%.
Underlying income from continuing operations was €593 million, up 7.6% in the quarter at actual rates. Ahold Delhaize's IFRS-reported net income in the quarter was €603 million. Diluted EPS was €0.60 and diluted underlying EPS was €0.59, up 11.0% at actual currency rates compared to last year's results. In the quarter, 9.5 million own shares were purchased for €255 million, bringing the total amount to €523 million in the first half of the year. The 2022 interim dividend is €0.46, up 7% versus the prior year, and, in line with the Group's dividend policy, represents 40% of first half 2022 underlying income per share from continuing operations.
U.S. net sales were €13.6 billion, an increase of 7.7% at constant exchange rates, and up 22.1% at actual exchange rates. U.S. comparable sales excluding gasoline increased 6.4%, benefiting by approximately 0.9 percentage points from calendar shifts. Food Lion continued to lead brand performance, with 39 consecutive quarters of positive sales growth.
In Q2, online sales in the segment were up 16.4% in constant currency. This builds on top of the strong 61.0% constant currency growth in the same quarter last year.
Underlying operating margin in the U.S. was 4.7%, down 0.3 percentage points at constant exchange rates from the prior year period. In Q2, U.S. IFRS-reported operating margin was also 4.7%.
European net sales were €7.9 billion, an increase of 4.2% at constant exchange rates and 4.5% at actual exchange rates. These sales also benefited from the 2021 acquisition of 38 stores from DEEN in the Netherlands. Europe's comparable sales excluding gasoline increased 1.8% due in part to a positive impact of approximately 0.7 percentage points from calendar shifts.
In Q2, net consumer online sales in the segment were down 1.1%, following 27.0% growth in the same period last year. The decline was due to weak non-food e-commerce market conditions in the Benelux, which contracted at a high-single-digit rate as brick-and-mortar non-food retail sales recovered from prior year lockdown measures. Bol.com's percentage of net consumer online sales from its nearly 50,000 third-party sellers was 61% in Q2.
Underlying operating margin in Europe was 3.4%, down 0.8 percentage points from the prior year due to volume deleveraging, particularly in the Benelux from lapsed benefits of lockdown restrictions, as well as significant price competition in Belgium and Greece. Europe's Q2 IFRS-reported operating margin was 3.5%.
Ahold Delhaize first announced its intention to explore a sub-IPO for bol.com at its November Investor Day 2021, in order to build on the remarkable success, customer loyalty and leadership position of bol.com as a retail tech platform. We believe strongly in the value and potential of bol.com, underpinned by its continued strong market share gains as well as its industry leading customer and partner satisfaction scores.
Considering current equity market conditions, we have decided that the second half of 2022 is no longer the right time to sub-IPO bol.com. We remain committed to securing the right future path to unlock value for bol.com and Ahold Delhaize, and will revisit opportunities when market conditions are more conducive. As such, our immediate priority is to ensure that bol.com continues to leverage its leadership position and execute its strategic growth agenda with a strong return on capital.
Like other companies in Europe, bol.com is adjusting to a more dynamic economic climate. Therefore, we have completed a detailed review of bol.com's medium-term growth and investment plan, to provide additional flexibility and agility going forward. In particular, we have identified a less capital intensive, modular approach to facilitate bol.com's infrastructure needs to support and deliver against its compelling growth and expansion opportunities. In the medium term, our new plans will ensure we remain in a strong position to grow faster than the market, yield a healthy double-digit sales and EBITDA compound annual growth rate, and deliver above Group average return on capital.
While current macro-environment trends, including high rates of inflation and rising energy costs, are expected to continue into the second half of the year, our results in the first half of the year provide management with the confidence to raise the underlying EPS growth outlook for 2022 and the free cash flow outlook for 2022.
Ahold Delhaize's 2022 Group underlying operating margin is expected to be at least 4.0%, in line with the Company's historical profile. Management believes that the Company's brands continue to offer consumers a strong shopping proposition and are well-positioned to maintain profitability in the current inflationary environment. Despite significant cost increases, Ahold Delhaize's Save for Our Customers initiative is expected to deliver more than €850 million in savings, which should help offset cost pressures related to inflation and supply chain issues, along with the negative impact to margins from increased online sales penetration.
Based on the strong half-year earnings as well as other macro-economic, foreign exchange and interest rate factors, we are raising underlying EPS guidance for 2022. We now expect underlying EPS to grow at a mid-single-digit rate relative to 2021 versus our original outlook of a low- to mid-single-digit decline relative to 2021 and our updated outlook, announced in May, of growth remaining comparable with 2021 levels.
The 2022 free cash flow outlook has also been raised to be approximately €2.0 billion, compared to the previous outlook of approximately €1.7 billion. Net capital expenditures are expected to total approximately €2.5 billion. As labor and raw material costs remain high, we reiterate our commitment to exercise discipline in executing and phasing the timing of investments, in order to ensure hurdle rates and return on capital metrics are achieved.
Given the strength of our underlying operations and our medium-term investment plans, which include lower capital intensity at bol.com, we now expect cumulative free cash flow of around €7.5 billion for the period 2022 to 2025, compared to our original expectation of over €6 billion. Total capital expenditure for the Company as a percentage of sales is expected to be around 3% (previously 3.5%). We will continue to focus these investments on our food omnichannel transformation, including our store networks, automation, monetization and last-mile delivery infrastructure, as well as furthering our efforts to reduce our climate impact.
In addition, Ahold Delhaize remains committed to its dividend policy and share buyback program, as previously stated. We are on track to increase our full-year dividend within our 40-50% payout range, in line with our policy, and we are executing our €1 billion share repurchase program in 2022 as planned.
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