Empire boasts ‘highest earnings per share in memory’

Investments in Voila and private label are continuing to drive big growth for the parent company of Sobeys and IGA.
Empire Company Limited-Announcing Voil-- Canada-s best online gr

Empire is reporting higher-than-expected profits in its last quarter, with earnings per share up 16.7%.

Canada’s second-largest grocery chain, and operator of the Sobeys, IGA, Foodland, FreshCo and Safeway banners, says it saw a 5% boost in Q3 sales to $7.4 billion, with a quarterly profit of $203.4 million, up from $176.3 million a year prior.

Same-store sales (excluding fuel) did decrease by 1.7% compared to elevated sales in the same period last year, but Empire says they grew by 8.3% over 2020.

In Thursday’s conference call, CEO Michael Medline boasted the grocer had its “highest EPS in memory,” and was able to achieve the gaudy earnings per share numbers despite “some of the choppiest quarters we’ve seen in a long time.”

Empire also reported that ecommerce sales increased 17% over 2021 with the addition of Grocery Gateway and continued growth in Voilà, partially offset by declines in its other ecommerce platforms.

According to Medline, the company remains very confident Voilà is the optimal business model to sustainably deliver a profitable ecommerce grocery business at scale. The company’s second customer fulfilment centre (CFC) in Montreal recently completed employee testing and began transitioning customers in some areas of Quebec to Voilà from IGA’s online ordering platform.

Voilà par IGA officially launched for Quebec customers on Monday and Empire says it already has a significant amount of volume to flow through the CFC. This will be a phased rollout and Empire says that by summer, approximately 85% of the Quebec population will have access to Voilà.

Through its four CFCs, Empire claims it can serve approximately 75% of Canadian households, representing 90% of Canadian ecommerce spend.

Medline said that the number one challenge in all of retail right now continues to be supply chain challenges.

“We have received an unprecedented number of supplier cost increases over the last few months,” Medline says. He reports that the company managed to keep prices as low as possible for customers but that it’s also seamlessly executed the required price changes and minimize the impact on performance.

“All the while, our merchants are innovating the customer experience and delivering value through more impactful promotions and private label,” he added.

The company is reporting its home brands are “on fire right now” and growing much faster than national brands.

According to Empire CFO Matt Reindel, its selling, general, and administrative expenses (SG&A) was 21.9%, which was 40 basis points higher than last year, attributed to Longo’s, which has a higher SG&A rate than its average.

For Q3, Reindel notes, Empire renovated 34 stores, opened one new Farm Boy, relocated one Farm Boy and opened seven new FreshCo stores in the West.

Empire says it’s invested $159.5 million in capital expenditures in the third quarter including renovations and construction of new stores, investments in e-commerce fulfilment centres, FreshCo locations in the west, and investments in advanced analytics and other tech systems.