** Two-year comparable sales growth is a stack of the comparable sales growth excluding gasoline in the current year period added to the comparable sales growth excluding gasoline in the prior year period. This measure may be helpful to improve the understanding of trends in periods that are affected by variations in prior-year growth rates.
Zaandam, the Netherlands, November 10, 2021 – Ahold Delhaize, one of the world’s largest food retail groups and a leader in both supermarkets and e-commerce, reports third quarter results today.
The interim report for the third quarter 2021 can be viewed and downloaded at www.aholddelhaize.com.
Comments from Frans Muller, President and CEO of Ahold Delhaize
"Our Q3 results once again showed the resilience of our business model, with our brands building further on 2020's COVID-19-related sales gains, as various societies across our markets reopened in the quarter. During these ever-changing times, we remain proud of the significant efforts of associates in all our brands and businesses, who continue to tirelessly serve our communities. In Europe and the United States, our businesses faced additional disruptions in Q3 related to the Belgian floods, tornadoes in the Czech Republic, fires in Greece and Hurricane Ida in the U.S. We would like to send a special thank you to the affected associates for their continued dedication to their communities during these difficult times, and for truly living our core values.
"We continue to focus on making additional investments to meet associate, customer and community needs and remain on track to deliver on our pledge to contribute €20 million in charitable donations, spread evenly between the U.S. and Europe, during 2021. We also continued to support COVID-19-related health and safety measures, which remain a top priority; we invested €66 million in these measures in Q3. The pandemic has shown us the importance of maintaining food and product supplies to local communities – a vital role that we remain focused on fulfilling, together with our brands and suppliers.
"Q3 Group net sales of €18.5 billion remained elevated; this was exemplified by the U.S. segment, where comparable sales excluding gasoline grew 2.9% on top of last year's double-digit growth. Many consumer habits formed during the COVID-19 pandemic favoring food-at-home consumption and a focus on healthier eating are proving resilient, and we continue to make significant investments to address these trends.
"To meet consumer needs in line with this market dynamic and support our leading market share positions, our brands continued to bring new omnichannel solutions to customers. As a result, Q3 net consumer online sales grew 29.2% at constant currency rates, coming on top of the very robust growth profile from Q3 2020. And at bol.com, our online retail platform in the Benelux, net consumer sales grew by 19.2% in the quarter, which comes on top of 45.6% growth in Q3 2020. Bol.com's sales from third-party sellers grew 24.6% in the quarter, with nearly 48,000 merchant partners on the platform.
"We continue to solidify our position as an industry-leading local omnichannel retailer by executing our strategy to improve supply chain, advance omnichannel offerings, and enhance omnichannel productivity. To improve the efficiency of our supply chain, the U.S. business has now achieved self-distribution for 65% of center store volume, and remains on schedule to transition to a fully self-distributed network in 2023.
"To advance omnichannel offerings, Giant Food will soon launch Ship2me, an online marketplace solution, initially offering an additional ~40,000 general merchandise and food items. During the quarter, we also added 102 new click-and-collect locations in the U.S. and our brands in Greece and the Czech Republic expanded their online grocery delivery services.
"Improving omnichannel productivity remains a high priority and we are proud of our new e-commerce fulfillment facility in the Philadelphia market at The GIANT Company, which opened this week. The facility is part of our efforts to drive growth and efficiencies in our online operations. At our Investor Day on November 15, 2021, you will hear more from us regarding these and exciting initiatives being undertaken throughout the business in support of our omnichannel ambitions.
"We also continued along our path as a consolidator of choice within the food retail industry during Q3 by successfully completing the acquisition of 38 stores from DEEN in the Netherlands. We have already remodeled the majority of the acquired stores, and expect to have all of the stores remodeled by mid-November.
"Lastly, we continue to make progress in elevating our Healthy and Sustainable strategy. Our MSCI ESG ranking has been upgraded to an ‘AA’ ranking from our previous ‘A’ ranking, putting Ahold Delhaize in the top 25% of all companies measured. The ranking reflects our efforts to reduce carbon emissions, mitigate risks, and ensure we have great diverse talent. We are proud of this achievement as it reflects our ambition to be an ESG leader, and we will continue to work hard towards this goal. Furthermore, we have joined the Science Based Targets initiative (SBTi) Business Ambition for 1.5°C, a global coalition of UN agencies, business and industry leaders, in partnership with the Race to Zero. In the Czech Republic, Albert was recognized as the market leader for its wide range of organic products. And Delhaize in Belgium has launched a new subscription service that allows companies to offer their employees a discount on healthy food products. Furthermore, bol.com has begun utilizing a multi-packing machine that saves packaging material, leading to fewer delivery trips and thereby reducing bol.com's overall CO2 emissions.
"Looking ahead, we are excited to share more on these as well as other important initiatives and updates to our Leading Together strategy at our first virtual Investor Day on November 15, 2021."
Q3 Financial highlights
Group net sales were €18.5 billion, up 4.0% at actual exchange rates, and increased 4.6% at constant exchange rates. Group net sales were driven by positive contributions from comparable sales growth excluding gasoline of 1.7% and acquisitions, which were modestly offset by unfavorable foreign exchange rates.
Q3 comparable sales were negatively impacted by approximately 0.6 percentage points from unfavorable calendar shifts and weather. On a two-year comparable sales stack basis, growth for the Group of 12.2% in Q3 2021 compares to the 14.4% growth posted for the full year 2020.
In Q3, Group net consumer online sales grew 29.2% at constant exchange rates, due to significant growth at bol.com, continued strong performance across the rest of the online business, and the FreshDirect acquisition.
In Q3, Group underlying operating margin was 4.4%, down 0.2 percentage points from the prior year at constant exchange rates, as margins lapped unusually high levels from last year due to COVID-19. Margins in 2020 benefited largely from higher operating leverage due to strong sales trends related to COVID-19. In Q3, Group IFRS-reported operating margin was 4.2%.
Underlying income from continuing operations was €547 million, up 3.2% in the quarter at actual rates. Ahold Delhaize's IFRS-reported net income in the quarter was €522 million. Diluted EPS was €0.51 and diluted underlying EPS was €0.53, up 7.2% at actual currency rates compared to last year's record Q3 results. Management believes that framing 2021 diluted underlying EPS growth relative to 2019 (prior to COVID-19) provides a helpful context for investors. Therefore, compared to Q3 2019, diluted underlying EPS in the quarter was up by approximately 20%. In the quarter, 7.7 million own shares were purchased for €207 million, bringing the total amount to €695 million through Q3.
U.S. net sales increased 6.8% at constant exchange rates and 5.8% at actual exchange rates. U.S. comparable sales excluding gasoline increased 2.9%, growing on top of 12.4% growth from the year ago period, as elevated food-at-home demand remained intact.
Q3 comparable sales were negatively impacted by approximately 0.8 percentage points from an unfavorable calendar shift. On a two-year comparable sales stack basis, growth was 15.3%, similar to the 15.8% growth for the full year 2020. Brand performance continued to be led by Food Lion.
In Q3, online sales in the segment were up 52.9% in constant currency, driven by the continued expansion of click-and-collect facilities and the FreshDirect acquisition. Excluding the FreshDirect acquisition, U.S. online sales grew 26.2% in constant currency, building on top of the significant 114.7% growth in the same quarter last year.
Underlying operating margin in the U.S. was 4.8%, down 0.2 percentage points at constant exchange rates from the prior year period, which had benefited from unusually low shrink levels and favorable sales mix owing to a surge in demand related to COVID-19. In Q3, U.S. IFRS-reported operating margin was 4.6%.
European net sales grew 1.1% at constant exchange rates and 1.3% at actual exchange rates. Europe's comparable sales excluding gasoline declined by 0.2%. Despite lapping strong comparable sales growth excluding gasoline in the year ago period of 7.5% and contending with the reopening of societies across Europe, comparable sales remained stable on the back of continued market share gains. Albert Heijn was a particular standout in the quarter, with market share results being driven by successful marketing campaigns and sales uplifts provided by the brand’s store remodeling activities. The European brands that produced good comparable sales growth excluding gasoline in the quarter were led by bol.com, and included our central and southern European operations.
Q3 comparable sales in Europe were negatively impacted by approximately 0.4 percentage points from flooding in Belgium, which occurred early in the quarter. On a two-year comparable sales stack basis for Q3 2021, growth was 7.3%, a deceleration compared to growth of 12.3% in 2020, although the Q3 2021 two-year comparable stack remains elevated relative to historic levels.
In Q3, net consumer online sales in the segment were up 20.1%, following 48.6% growth in the same period last year.
Underlying operating margin in Europe was 4.3%, flat compared with the prior year at constant exchange rates, as strong savings programs offset inflationary pressures on costs. In Q3, Europe's IFRS-reported operating margin was 4.1%.
Our Q3 results provide management with the confidence to raise the 2021 outlook for underlying operating margin, underlying EPS growth and free cash flow.
As previously reported, COVID-19, and to a lesser extent, a 53-week calendar, significantly distorted Ahold Delhaize's 2020 financial results. Lapping these effects is impacting results in 2021, which returned to a 52-week calendar.
In 2021, the Group underlying operating margin outlook has been raised to approximately 4.4%, versus approximately 4.3% previously, reflecting the strong year-to-date margin performance. The outlook continues to reflect the effects of over €750 million in cost savings largely offsetting cost pressures related to COVID-19, and the negative impact from increased online sales penetration.
The underlying EPS guidance has been raised and is now expected to grow in the low- to mid-20s range relative to 2019, versus high-teen growth previously. Management believes that framing 2021 underlying EPS guidance relative to 2019, which was prior to COVID-19 and also on a 52-week calendar, provides a helpful context for investors.
The 2021 free cash flow outlook has also been raised to approximately €1.7 billion, compared to the previous outlook of approximately €1.6 billion. This puts the Company on track to reach €5.7 billion in cumulative free cash flow from 2019-2021 (averaging €1.9 billion annually), which exceeds the Capital Markets Day 2018 target of €5.4 billion (averaging €1.8 billion annually). Capital expenditure is expected to be around €2.2 billion, and reflects the Company's higher investments in digital and omnichannel capabilities and improvements related to recent M&A. In addition, Ahold Delhaize remains committed to its dividend policy and share buyback program in 2021, as previously stated. We expect to grow the full-year 2021 dividend year-over-year.
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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; political developments, natural disasters and pandemics; 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.