ahold delhaize

Ahold Delhaize delivers solid Q4 results, introduces outlook for 2024

In the U.S., net sales decreased by 1.5% at constant rates and comparable sales declined by 1%.

Local brands in Ahold Delhaize's international portfolio created value for customers and contributed to a solid end to the year for the retailer.

"The local brands in our strong international portfolio have been steadfast in creating value for customers by enhancing their highly personalized loyalty programs, increasing access to omnichannel offerings and expanding their innovative own-brand assortments. In an increasingly complex world, our brands are able to deliver consistency to customers, associates and suppliers, quarter after quarter," said Frans Muller, president and CEO of Ahold Delhaize.

"Disciplined cost management is more important than ever to mitigate cost increases for customers, especially as global conflicts create potential volatility in supply chains. In 2023, we left no stone unturned and significantly exceeded our original Save for Our Customers goals, generating over €1.25 billion in cost savings, which is 29% more than we generated in the prior year," said Muller. 

Muller noted that in Q4, group net sales increased by 1.9% at constant rates, while comparable sales increased by 1.8%. "We delivered an underlying operating margin of 4.3% and diluted underlying EPS growth of 2.5%. One-off adjustments in the U.S. partially offset declines in European margin and in insurance benefits at the Global Support Office. On an IFRS basis, we delivered operating income of €675 million and diluted EPS of €0.47. IFRS results were negatively impacted by the loss on the divestment of FreshDirect," he said.

In the United States, net sales decreased by 1.5% at constant rates and comparable sales declined by 1%, which Muller said is "in line with our expectations, as inflation moderated further and Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program headwinds remained."

With the backdrop of a declining U.S. grocery market, Food Lion achieved a remarkable milestone with 45 consecutive quarters of positive comparable sales growth, Muller said, adding, "Excluding one- offs, the U.S. underlying operating margin was consistent with the prior year, highlighting our strong focus on managing costs to match top-line deflation trends. In addition, the divestment of FreshDirect was finalized in the quarter, which contributed a modest uplift to margin. For the coming quarters, this margin upside will help fund investments into our U.S. brands' store portfolio and customer value propositions."

In Europe, net sales were up 7.5% at constant rates and comparable store sales were up 6.5% in Q4. "This is a strong result, and comes along with the first positive volume trends in over two years. Key to this milestone has been our brands' relentless focus on rolling out local everyday low-price programs," Muller said.

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Muller added, "Our brands have expanded their offering in the region to 7,000 own-brand products, meeting customers’ needs for high-quality, affordable items. Online grocery sales were up 9.3% with accelerating growth at Albert Heijn. Underlying operating margin was 3.7%, a sequential quarter-over-quarter improvement since we announced Delhaize Belgium's Future Plan and strong cost-control measures to compensate for high inflation in the cost base, particularly impacting labor. At Delhaize, 107 stores have now signed agreements with independent buyers. And we are starting to see encouraging results, with accelerating comparable store sales and stabilizing market share at converted stores." 

"Our 2023 diluted underlying EPS of €2.54 decreased by 0.4% at actual rates compared to 2022, in line with the company's original guidance of around prior year levels. Free cash flow in 2023 was €2.4 billion, reflecting ongoing solid and consistent operating cash flows, inflows related to the collection of a tax receivable in Belgium and outflows related to the delivery of various projects identified as part of the Accelerate operational efficiency initiative," he said.

Muller also said that elevating health and sustainability remains a key strategic focus. " In 2023, we reduced greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in our own operations by 35% compared to our 2018 baseline. Our total tons of food waste per food sales was 37% lower than our 2016 baseline, and we are reporting a 10% reduction in virgin own-brand plastic packaging compared to 2021. Our brands continued to increase the percentage of own-brand healthy food sales, reaching 54.8% in 2023, up 0.4 percentage points compared to 2022," Muller said.

Pointing out that in December 2023, the company published its updated Climate Plan, Muller said, "It provided updates in three key areas, describing how we quantified potential GHG-emissions reduction per decarbonization lever, sharpened the categories for our value chain emissions-reduction target and addressed challenges in meeting our overall reduction targets. Reducing overall emissions requires effort-based collaboration with our stakeholders across the entire value chain, which is why our brands in Europe have launched climate hubs to help educate their suppliers and support them in taking the first steps towards building their own GHG-emissions reduction plans."

"Our role as a company goes beyond just the price on the shelf. We believe it is also our responsibility to serve communities, help with broader societal challenges and foster a nurturing environment for associates to thrive. To this end, our brands contributed more than €240 million in charitable cash, product and food donations to local and regional food banks and non-profit organizations throughout the year," said Muller. 

Noting that for 2024 the company expects a predominantly consistent performance year-over-year, albeit with some different phasing across the quarters, Muller added, "for example, we lap the impacts of inflation rates, SNAP and the various positive and negative impacts of the prior year's transformational initiatives in Europe and the U.S. Our Group underlying margin is expected to be at least 4%. Earnings per share are expected to be around 2023 levels and free cash flow at around €2.3 billion. And, as always, you can expect us to be laser focused on cost control and cash flow delivery."

Lastly, Muller said, "We are also looking forward to hosting our Strategy Day in the Netherlands in May, at which we will talk about the many opportunities we see in front of us to kick off a new phase of momentum. Some of the themes we will outline include: maintaining a relentless focus on the customer; leveraging the strength of our great local brands, including a more deliberate and holistic reset of Stop & Shop; simplifying our organization to sustain growth investments; and deploying capital in a more surgical way to support our biggest opportunities."

Q4 Group highlights:

Group net sales were €23.0 billion, an increase of 1.9% at constant exchange rates, and down 1.4% at actual exchange rates. Group net sales were driven by comparable sales growth excluding gasoline of 1.8%, partially offset by lower gasoline sales. Q4 Group comparable sales had a net negative impact of approximately .3 percentage points from weather and calendar shifts, primarily related to the timing of New Year's Eve.

In Q4, Group net consumer online sales increased by 2.6% at constant exchange rates. Double-digit growth at Food Lion and Hannaford and accelerating growth at Albert Heijn were partially offset by FreshDirect.

Group underlying operating margin was 4.3%, a decrease of .1 percentage points at constant exchange rates. One-off adjustments in the U.S. partially offset declines in European margin and in insurance benefits at the Global Support Office. In Q4, Group IFRS operating income was €675 million, representing an IFRS operating margin of 2.9%, mainly impacted by a €250 million loss on the divestment of FreshDirect and €60 million for restructuring-related costs pertaining to Accelerate initiatives.

Underlying income from continuing operations was €700 million, a decrease of 1.1% in the quarter at actual rates. Ahold Delhaize's IFRS net income in the quarter was €451 million. Diluted EPS was €0.47 and diluted underlying EPS was €0.73, up 2.5% at actual currency rates compared to last year's results. In the quarter, Ahold Delhaize purchased 8.2 million own shares for €225 million, bringing the total year-to-date amount to €1 billion.

U.S. highlights:

U.S. net sales were €13.8 billion, a decrease of 1.5% at constant exchange rates and down 6.5% at actual exchange rates. U.S. comparable sales excluding gasoline decreased by 1%, and had a net negative impact of approximately .5 percentage points from weather and calendar shifts, primarily related to the timing of New Year's Eve. Strong growth in pharmacy was offset by the non-recurrence of emergency SNAP benefits, the moderation of inflation rates and lower gasoline sales. Food Lion and Hannaford continue to lead the U.S. brands' performance with 45 and 10 consecutive quarters of positive sales growth, respectively.

In Q4, online sales in the segment declined 1.9% in constant currency, driven by the declining performance of FreshDirect in Q4 and its divestment, as of Dec. 6.

[Read more: Ahold Delhaize delivers solid Q2 results]

The underlying operating margin in the United States was 5.2%, up .4 percentage points, primarily due to favorable reserve release and one-off settlements and a modest margin mix benefit from the divestment of FreshDirect. This was partially offset by an increase in shrink. In Q4, the U.S. IFRS operating margin was 3.2%, mainly impacted by a €250 million loss on the divestment of FreshDirect.

Europe highlights:

European net sales were €9.2 billion, an increase of 7.5% at constant exchange rates and 7.4% at actual exchange rates. The higher net sales were due to an increase in comparable sales of 6.5% and the net opening of new stores, including the conversion of Jan Linders stores.

In Q4, net consumer online sales increased by 4.9%. Online sales in grocery increased by 9.3%.

The underlying operating margin in Europe was 3.7%, down .3 percentage points. Higher wages and investments in our customer value proposition were partially offset by a decrease in the non-cash service charge for the Netherlands' employee pension plan. Europe's Q4 IFRS operating margin was 3.2%, mainly impacted by €32 million for restructuring-related costs pertaining to Belgium initiatives.


The following are changes in the business that will impact comparable performance for 2024 and have been incorporated into our Outlook:

The divestment of FreshDirect will reduce the amount of 2024 reported net sales and online sales for the U.S. segment by $600 million.

Albert Heijn net sales will be impacted by the cessation of tobacco sales in 2024. Albert Heijn stopped selling tobacco in its own operated supermarkets on January 1, 2024. This will have around a two to three-percentage-point impact on reported and comparable store sales in Europe in 2024.

The acquisition of Profi is expected to close in the second half of 2024 and will double the size of operations in Romania. As the timing of the closing is uncertain, our 2024 Outlook excludes any impact from this transaction.

Ahold Delhaize's Group underlying operating margin is expected to be ≥4.0%, in line with the company's historical profile. Margins will be supported by Save for Our Customers programs of ≥€1 billion in savings in 2024. This should help to offset pressures related to cost and wage inflation, along with the negative impact on margins from increased online sales penetration, the company said.

Underlying EPS is expected to be around 2023 levels at current exchange rates. The company's earnings guidance implies further growth and a strong underlying operating performance, which will offset the impact of anticipated moderate declines in interest rates.

Free cash flow is expected to be around €2.3 billion. Net capital expenditures are expected to total around €2.2 billion, lower than the prior year, mainly due to divestments of facilities in the United States. "Overall, we continue to maintain strong levels of investments into our brands' store networks and further rollout of omnichannel capabilities, as well as in advancing our healthy and sustainable initiatives. In addition, Ahold Delhaize remains committed to its dividend policy and share buyback program in 2024, as previously stated. We are proposing a full-year dividend for 2023 of €1.10 per share and have previously announced a €1 billion share purchase program for 2024," the company said.

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