Empire Co. Ltd. sees sales bump as shoppers prep amid coronavirus outbreak

One of Canada’s largest grocers has seen a sales bump as Canadians buy more than usual in an effort to prepare amid the growing novel coronavirus outbreak.

“Our customers are obviously concerned,” said Michael Medline, CEO of Empire Co. Ltd, during a conference call with analysts after the company released its third-quarter financial results.

Customers are wanting to take care of their families, he said, but the company hasn’t seen an inordinate stockpiling of goods.

“People are buying what you would predict they would to set themselves up in case there’s some sort of emergency in their family,” Medline said.

As more cases of COVID-19 crop up in the country, some events, conferences and sports have been cancelled, and more people have been asked to practice social distancing or self isolate.

Empire is seeing a clear acceleration in certain categories, said Medline, and it tends to be more acute in certain regions, especially those most affected with novel coronavirus patients.

Over the last few days, the parent company of Sobeys and Safeway grocery stores has seen that expand a little bit beyond what Medline called “the truly predictable categories.”

“I don’t want to overstate the entire store impact at this point, but we are seeing accelerated sales trends and at a pace that we just haven’t seen before.”

The commentary came as Empire reported it earned $120.5 million in its latest quarter, up from $65.8 million in the same period a year earlier.

The profit amounted to 45 cents per diluted share for the 13-week period ended Feb. 1 compared with 24 cents per share a year earlier.

Sales in what was the company’s third quarter totalled nearly $6.4 billion, up from $6.2 billion in the same quarter a year ago.

Same-store sales gained 1.0 per cent, while same-store sales growth, excluding fuel, rose 0.8 per cent.

On an adjusted basis, Empire earned $123.7 million or 46 cents per diluted share, up from an adjusted profit of $72.9 million or 27 cents per diluted share a year earlier.

Analysts on average had expected a profit of 46 cents per share, according to financial markets data firm Refinitiv.

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