* Excluding gasoline sales
Zaandam, the Netherlands - January 23, 2019 - Following the introduction of our Leading Together strategy at our Capital Markets Day in November, Ahold Delhaize today announced consolidated net sales of €16.5 billion for the fourth quarter of 2018, an increase of 3.0% at constant exchange rates compared to the fourth quarter of last year.
Overall the business delivered another strong sales performance in the fourth quarter and for the full year 2018. For the full year, net sales reached €62.8 billion, up 2.5% at constant exchange rates.
Sales performance in the United States continued to show good momentum with 2.7% comparable sales growth excluding gasoline in the fourth quarter, including a slightly favorable weather impact. In our markets we saw a lower level of inflation compared to the previous quarter. Online sales growth accelerated to 12.1% at constant exchange rates, as our food eCommerce initiatives started to gain traction at each brand. Food Lion continued to benefit from the roll-out of the "Easy, Fresh and Affordable" program, now in 70% of its stores. Full year 2018 market share across our brands is expected to have increased compared to last year.
The Netherlands had a solid performance with 3.3% comparable sales growth compared to a strong fourth quarter last year, including a limited negative impact this year by the timing of New Year. Albert Heijn grew comparable sales in both supermarkets and online, albeit reporting a slightly lower market share for the full year 2018. Bol.com reported 32.3% growth in net consumer online sales in the fourth quarter, resulting in €2.1 billion net consumer online sales for the full year 2018.
In Belgium the implementation of the strategic plans to improve the operational performance of the Delhaize stores is reflected by a comparable sales growth of 3.0% for this quarter. Sales growth benefited from a positive calendar impact with one additional opening day compared to last year. Full year 2018 market share of Delhaize has increased compared to last year.
In Central and Southeastern Europe comparable sales grew by 2.0% excluding gasoline. The Czech Republic reported a very strong sales performance with successful promotions resulting in both increased transactions and basket size in supermarkets as well as in its compact hypers. In Greece, as a consequence of competitive re-openings, comparable sales growth remained under pressure but gradually improved compared to the previous quarters and with slightly positive volume growth this quarter.
For the full year 2018, we expect underlying earnings per share from continuing operations to be at the higher end of our previous guidance of €1.50-1.60. Full year free cash flow is expected to be more than €2.0 billion, supported by further improvements in net working capital. Capital expenditure for 2018 is expected to be €1.8 billion, in line with previous guidance.
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Forward-looking statements are subject to risks, uncertainties and other factors that are difficult to predict and that may cause 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 the risk factors set forth 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.
*Ahold Delhaize will no longer publish a full year trading statement as of 2020.