Zaandam, the Netherlands, May 11, 2022 – Ahold Delhaize, one of the world’s largest food retail groups and a leader in both supermarkets and e-commerce, reports first quarter results today.
"I am pleased to report a strong start to the year for Ahold Delhaize. In times like these, our strong global portfolio of local brands provides distinct competitive and societal advantages. This allows us to successfully navigate short-term market volatility and, at the same time, provide financial stability and operational bandwidth to focus on our long term growth agenda.
"Brand strength and relative market share are our most important measures of success. Our performance on these metrics again shone through in our results, with 8.3% growth in net sales to €19.8 billion and diluted underlying earnings per share up 1.3% to €0.55, exceeding our original expectations. Through our 19 great local brands, on the whole, we lapped prior year pandemic lockdowns with further market shares gains and healthy growth rates in our online grocery business while, at the same time, preserving our industry-leading profitability metrics.
"For consumers, Q1 was characterized by significant challenges both within and outside of our markets, headlined by the war in Ukraine. While we do not have direct operations in Ukraine or Russia, I am extremely proud of associates at our brands who quickly jumped into action to provide crucial support to those affected by the war. Our brands in Europe, together with Ahold Delhaize, donated more than €1.5 million worth of cash and in-kind support, and generated an additional €1.2 million in customer and associate donations to organizations like the Red Cross. Several brands are supporting associates who are volunteering their time to provide on the ground support, and are actively promoting jobs to Ukrainian people displaced by the violence. We will continue to provide support for as long as it’s needed.
"We also know that consumers globally are feeling the pressure of high inflation rates. We are working hard with suppliers to mitigate price increases where possible and ensuring that increases are realistic and necessary. Moreover, Ahold Delhaize’s local brands are helping customers manage their shopping baskets efficiently, by providing great value offers spearheaded by omnichannel loyalty programs, prioritizing healthy food options through Guiding Stars- and Nutri-Score-linked promotions, and expanding the assortment and availability of high-quality lower-cost own-brand products and bulk offerings.
"For example, The GIANT Company doubled points earned on the purchase of all Guiding Stars-rated items. Meanwhile, Giant Food expanded its “More for You” value campaign with the introduction of a bulk item aisle, offering consumers savings on larger-sized products. Also in Europe, a good example is Alfa Beta, which launched a new promotional campaign called Top Hits, offering discounts on key items. By the end of the first half of 2022, all European markets will have their own tailored entry price favorites programs.
"Our brands are laser focused on helping consumers manage their spending, proactively highlighting savings opportunities. For example, own-brand assortments, which offer great quality at a reduced cost versus national brands, are being positioned more prominently and conveniently in stores and the omnichannel shopping journey. In the Benelux, our own-brand portfolios represent over half of all our brands' food sales. In the U.S., own-brand penetration stands at approximately 30% and our brands will continue to invest in and extend their own-brand presence and visibility throughout 2022.
"Looking at our regional performance in more detail, in the U.S., we were able to grow comparable sales by 3.9%, excluding weather and calendar shifts, and maintained relatively stable underlying operating profit in U.S. dollars, as strong food-at-home demand and our cost savings initiatives enabled our brands to mitigate incremental cost pressures. Food Lion, in particular, with its 38th consecutive quarter of growth is one of the top performing brands in the U.S. right now with close to double-digit comparable sales.
"In Europe, the reopening of societies across our markets and a return to normal life for most citizens created a challenging comparison in the Benelux, as we lapped the year-ago quarter when strict lockdown measures boosted sales for both our grocery business and bol.com. This resulted in declining Q1 comparable sales and underlying operating profits for Europe. We see customer trust and loyalty as an important indicator of how well we are doing. This is clearly reflected in the fact that our overall market share is increasing, being particularly robust at Albert Heijn and bol.com.
"To counter the broader market conditions we see in Europe, particularly challenging markets like Belgium, we are focusing on two main approaches to strengthen our brands and connection with customers. Firstly, we are strengthening our commercial proposition by ramping up the rollout of successful pricing and loyalty programs for customers in all our markets and broadening our product offering to ensure affordable options for every wallet. Secondly, cost savings are currently more important than ever to be able to offer customers the most competitive price without sacrificing investments in growth. As such, in the more challenged markets, on top of our running cost savings programs, we are committed to review additional structural costs more aggressively to better align them to the underlying dynamics of the market.
"While short term mitigation actions will keep us busy this year, our Leading Together strategic priorities also remain front and center in our work. Our omnichannel transformation agenda is core to this. Coming off a very strong 2021 which saw a further step up in online gains due to the pandemic, our energy to drive stickiness in our omnichannel ecosystem is paying off. In Q1, Group net consumer online sales only declined by 1.0% at constant exchange rates. This includes 4.6% growth in the U.S., offset by a 3.8% decline in Europe. Excluding bol.com, net consumer online sales increased 4.6%, as online grocery penetration rates continued to increase. We continue to use a blend of organic investment and strategic partnerships to make smart choices as we expand our proposition and reach. For example, in the U.S., we now have over 1,400 pick-up points and have added new instant delivery options with partners. In Europe, Albert Heijn expanded its existing partnership with Deliveroo and Thuisbezorgd.nl.
"At bol.com, sales declined 7% in the quarter, against a market backdrop which is estimated to have been down mid-teens. The strong position of bol.com with customers and partners has therefore again yielded strong market share gains. We continue to make very good progress with the bol.com management team in our preparations to have bol.com ready for a sub-IPO in the second half of 2022, subject of course to market conditions, and other factors. We believe strongly in the value and potential of bol.com. Our intentions remain firmly focused on securing the right future path to unlock value and provide further funding for bol.com and Ahold Delhaize to execute our winning strategy.
"Speaking of the long term, we remain strongly focused on our ESG ambitions, and continued to make strides in this area during Q1. Albert Heijn and bol.com were recognized as industry leaders by the 2022 Sustainable Brand Index. Albert Heijn was voted the most sustainable supermarket chain in the Netherlands for the sixth year in a row and bol.com was recognized as the most sustainable e-commerce brand for the second year in a row. As we continue to support the transition to a healthy and sustainable food system, our U.S. brand Hannaford announced plans to be fully powered by renewable energy by 2024.
"All in all, I am pleased with the performance of the business in what is an increasingly challenging environment. Overall, Q1 results were better than our expectations, despite macro-economic pressures arising from the war in Ukraine. The second quarter is seeing many of the trends from Q1 continuing. Therefore, taking all moving parts together, we expect underlying EPS to be comparable to 2021 with the rest of our full-year guidance metrics unchanged."
Group net sales were €19.8 billion, an increase of 3.6% at constant exchange rates, and up 8.3% at actual exchange rates. Group net sales were driven by positive contributions from comparable sales growth excluding gasoline of 0.7%, foreign currency translation benefits, acquisitions, and higher gasoline sales. Q1 Group comparable sales had a net negative impact of approximately 0.5 percentage points from weather and calendar shifts, primarily relating to the timing of Easter.
In Q1, Group net consumer online sales declined by 1.0% at constant exchange rates, as growth in the U.S. was offset by the cycling of a strong Q1 2021 in Europe, particularly at bol.com, arising from last year's lockdowns and the subsequent reopening of societies in Q1 2022. Excluding bol.com, net consumer online sales increased 4.6% at constant exchange rates.
In Q1, Group underlying operating margin was 4.2%, down 0.5 percentage points compared to Q1 2021 at constant exchange rates, reflecting higher labor, distribution and energy costs than in the prior year period. In Q1, Group IFRS-reported operating income was €818 million, representing an IFRS-reported operating margin of 4.1%.
Underlying income from continuing operations was €555 million, down 2.0% in the quarter at actual rates. Ahold Delhaize's IFRS-reported net income in the quarter was €546 million. Diluted EPS was €0.54 and diluted underlying EPS was €0.55, up 1.3% at actual currency rates compared to last year's results. In the quarter, 9.4 million own shares were purchased for €268 million.
U.S. net sales were €12.2 billion, an increase of 5.8% at constant exchange rates, and up 13.6% at actual exchange rates. Sales also benefited from favorable foreign currency translation rates, last year's acquisition of stores from Southeastern Grocers, and higher fuel sales. U.S. comparable sales excluding gasoline increased 3.3%. This was partially offset by an unfavorable Q1 net impact to sales of 0.6 percentage points from weather and calendar shifts, primarily relating to the timing of Easter. Brand performance continued to be led by Food Lion, which has now delivered 38 consecutive quarters of positive sales growth.
In Q1, online sales in the segment were up 4.6% in constant currency. This builds on top of the significant 188.3% constant currency growth in the same quarter last year.
Underlying operating margin in the U.S. was 4.4%, down 0.4 percentage points at constant exchange rates from the prior year period driven by increased labor, distribution and energy costs, which were partially offset by higher pricing and cost savings initiatives. In Q1, U.S. IFRS-reported operating margin was 4.4%.
European net sales were €7.6 billion, an increase of 0.3% at constant exchange rates and 0.6% at actual exchange rates, driven by the 2021 acquisition of 38 stores from DEEN in the Netherlands. Europe's comparable sales excluding gasoline declined 3.1%. We saw a net negative impact on Q1 comparable sales in Europe of approximately 0.3 percentage points from weather and calendar shifts, primarily relating to the timing of Easter.
Declining Q1 comparable sales in Europe came as the segment lapped strong comparable sales growth excluding gasoline in Q1 2021 of 8.3%. The reopening of societies, particularly in the Benelux, and the resulting shift of some consumer spending back to travel and restaurants contributed to this development. Nonetheless, our market shares across Europe remained strong. Albert Heijn was a particular standout in the quarter, with robust market share gains attributed to strong execution, successful marketing campaigns, sales uplifts resulting from the brand’s store remodeling activities and contributions from the acquired DEEN stores.
In Q1, net consumer online sales in the segment were down 3.8%, following 78.6% growth in the same period last year. At bol.com, our online retail platform in the Netherlands and Belgium, net consumer online sales were €1.3 billion in Q1. This follows net consumer online sales of €1.4 billion in the same quarter last year, when sales at bol.com were aided by lockdown measures limiting brick-and-mortar retail stores.
Bol.com's percentage of net consumer online sales from third-party sellers was 60% in Q1, with nearly 49,000 merchant partners active on the platform.
Underlying operating margin in Europe was 3.5%. This compares to an underlying operating margin of 4.7% in the prior year quarter when margins sustained unusual benefits as a result of lockdown conditions in Europe. Additionally, higher overall costs also impacted margins in Q1. Europe's Q1 IFRS-reported operating margin was 3.4%.
While ongoing high rates of inflation, rising costs and supply chain disruptions represent 2022 headwinds, management remains confident in its 2022 outlook following the Company's Q1 results.
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 product 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.
Higher than expected Q1 earnings coupled with a more resilient consumer climate in the U.S. as well as a more favorable U.S. dollar and benefits from favorable insurance results from rising interest rates are forecast to more than offset the challenging economic backdrop in Europe. Based on the current macro-economic outlook, we now expect underlying EPS to be comparable to 2021, compared to our previous guidance of a low- to mid-single-digits decline.
Free cash flow is expected to be approximately €1.7 billion. Net capital expenditures are expected to total a maximum of €2.5 billion, reflecting a step up in the Company's investments in its digital and omnichannel offering to support accelerated sales growth. On the latter, given higher labor and raw material costs, Management remains committed to executing and phasing the timing of investments with the same discipline and focus on achieving required hurdle rates and return on capital metrics. In addition, Ahold Delhaize remains committed to its dividend policy and share buyback program, as previously stated. We expect to again increase our full-year dividend, and we are executing our €1 billion share repurchase program in 2022 as planned.
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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 environmental, social and governance matters (including performance) 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.