Kroger declines to comment on potential Safeway transaction, posts strong Q4 results
CINCINNATI — Kroger danced around "the elephant in the room" in declining to discuss future merger and acquisition plans on its fourth-quarter conference call Thursday morning. While neither Kroger executives nor analysts actually referenced any potential Safeway transaction, Rodney McMullen, Kroger CEO did provide some color as to what strategic opportunities the company would be interested in: "The thing that was attractive about Harris Teeter as a transaction — it’s a well-run company that overall we admired a whole lot," he said. Accordingly, the Harris Teeter stores are expected to contribute to Kroger’s overall growth strategy without a tremendous amount of additional investments.
Kroger reported total sales of $23.2 billion in the fourth quarter, which ended Feb. 1, 2014. After adjusting for the extra week in the fourth quarter last year, total sales increased by 4.8%. On this basis and without fuel, total sales increased by 4.4%. Results were enhanced by the company’s response to adverse weather in the fourth quarter 2013, the grocer reported. "Certainly the snow helped … as people came in to stock up before weather events," McMullen told analysts. "Typically when people go on a normal shopping trip, they shop off of a list. When they come in to stock up before an event like that, they aren’t really beholden to a list at that point and time."
Kroger posted an identical supermarket sales growth, without fuel, of 4.3% in the fourth quarter, marking the 41st consecutive quarter of same-store sales growth, McMullen noted.
Kroger also highlighted its store brand efforts as a significant contributor to the company’s growth in the past year. "We introduced 937 new products in fiscal 2013, including 100 Simple Truth items," Michael Ellis, president and COO, said. "Simple Truth continues to grow at an astonishing pace and we now expect it to reach a billion-dollar brand status by the end of fiscal 2014." Corporate brands represented 27.2% of total units sold at Kroger, and 24.4% of total dollars (excluding pharmacy and fuel) Ellis reported.
Kroger also was bullish regarding its acquisition last month of You Technology Brand Services. "We believe that You Tech has strong growth potential and that overtime will become the leading digital coupon provider for U.S. retailers, not just Kroger," Ellis said. Kroger first started offering digital coupons in 2010, Ellis noted. "At approximately 5:57 p.m. eastern time on February 6, a customer downloaded Kroger’ one-billionth digital coupon." That demonstrates the growth in customer acceptance of Kroger’s digital efforts, Ellis noted.
Kroger reported total sales of $98.4 billion in fiscal 2013, an increase of 3.9% after adjusting for the 53rd week last year. On this basis and excluding fuel, total sales increased 4.2% over the prior fiscal year.
The Harris Teeter transaction closed on Jan. 28, 2014. Harris Teeter is included in the company’s ending balance sheet, but because of the timing late in the year it had no effect on the adjusted fourth quarter or fiscal 2013 earnings.
Net total debt was $10.9 billion, an increase of $2.3 billion from a year ago as a result of the Harris Teeter transaction and, due to the timing late in its fiscal year, Kroger realized no incremental EBITDA in 2013 from this transaction. Therefore, Kroger’s net total debt to adjusted EBITDA ratio was 2.43, compared to 2.04 during the same period last year. Kroger remains committed to managing cash flow to achieve a 2 – 2.2 net debt to EBITDA ratio over the next 18-24 months, the company reported.
Kroger’s financial position allowed the company to return more than $928 million to shareholders through share buybacks and dividends in 2013. During the fiscal year, Kroger repurchased 16.1 million common shares for a total investment of $609 million.
Full-year net earnings for fiscal 2014 are expected to range from $3.14 to $3.25 per diluted share. This guidance includes Harris Teeter. Kroger anticipates identical supermarket sales growth, excluding fuel, of approximately 2.5% to 3.5% for fiscal 2014, including Harris Teeter. This range takes into account the expectation of low inflation during the year.
During fiscal 2014, Kroger plans to use cash flow from operations to maintain its current investment grade debt rating, repurchase shares, have a growing dividend and fund capital investments. The company expects capital investments to be in the $2.8 to $3 billion range for the year, including Harris Teeter.
Kroger currently fields 2,640 supermarkets and multi-department stores in 34 states and the District of Columbia under two dozen local banner names, including Kroger, City Market, Dillons, Food 4 Less, Fred Meyer, Fry’s, Harris Teeter, Jay C, King Soopers, QFC, Ralphs and Smith’s. The company also operates 786 convenience stores, 320 fine jewelry stores, 1,240 supermarket fuel centers and 38 food processing plants in the United States.
Oscar Mayer announces new bacon-themed app
MADISON, Wis. — Oscar Mayer is giving bacon lovers a reason to wake up early. The brand has unveiled the first-ever iOS device that wakes people up with the smell of bacon. The device, called Wake Up & Smell the Bacon, syncs with the Oscar Mayer Wake Up & Smell the Bacon iPhone app to emit the scent and sound of sizzling bacon when the rooster crows.
Bacon lovers everywhere can apply from now through Friday, April 4 at WakeUpAndSmellTheBacon.com for a chance to receive a free Wake Up & Smell the Bacon device. To use it, download the Wake Up & Smell the Bacon app and plug the detachable device into the headphone jack of an iPhone. The device will not be sold in stores and quantities are limited, so fans are encouraged to apply early and often.
Those who do not receive a device will still be able to download the Wake Up & Smell the Bacon application free in the App Store so they can wake up to the sound of sizzling bacon and bacon sayings or "baconisms."
Wake Up & Smell the Bacon is the latest brainchild of the Oscar Mayer Institute for the Advancement of Bacon, an online hub for bacon innovations from the Oscar Mayer brand. Last year OMIFAB created an e-commerce site to help consumers give the gift of bacon for Father’s Day in its Say It with Bacon campaign.
"With nearly 2 million mentions of #bacon on Instagram, it seems people never get tired of bacon. That’s why our team decided to develop a device to give folks what they long for most," said Tom Bick, senior director of integrated marketing and advertising at Oscar Mayer. "As the category leader, Oscar Mayer is thrilled to bring the first-ever, bacon-scented mobile device to market, giving bacon aficionados a new reason to welcome their morning alarm clocks."
Winning applicants will receive the Wake Up & Smell the Bacon device six to eight weeks after applications close. Bacon fans may apply for their chance to win the device once a day.
MinuteClinic, Robert Wood Johnson University ink clinical collaboration
WOONSOCKET, R.I. and NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J. — CVS Caremark’s MinuteClinic and Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital have signed a clinical collaboration to enhance access to high-quality healthcare services at MinuteClinic in New Jersey’s Middlesex and Mercer counties.
The affiliation is MinuteClinic’s 32nd collaboration with a hospital or health system in the United States.
Under the agreement, MinuteClinic and RWJ will collaborate on patient education and disease management initiatives and will inform patients of the services each offer at the MinuteClinics inside three CVS/pharmacy stores in East Brunswick, Old Bridge and Plainsboro. In addition, RWJ primary care providers will serve as collaborating physicians for MinuteClinic nurse practitioners working in these locations. The collaboration includes plans for future clinics in the two counties as part of MinuteClinic’s national expansion plan to add 150 new clinics in 2014 and reach a total of 1,500 clinics in the U.S. by 2017.
Founded in 1884, RWJ includes a network of 1,300 physicians in Central New Jersey and is rated a top 10 institution for clinical quality.
"Robert Wood Johnson is a significant addition to the list of clinical collaborations we have developed throughout the United States with large hospital networks, physician-led health systems, academic medical centers and community hospitals," stated Andrew Sussman, president, MinuteClinic and SVP/associate chief medical officer, CVS Caremark. "We look forward to having RWJ physicians collaborate with MinuteClinic’s nurse practitioners to provide quality support, teaching and back-up so MinuteClinic can provide the best care at the lowest overall cost to New Jersey residents."
Joshua Bershad, SVP and chief medical officer at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital, noted, "As we continue to move forward in the post-healthcare reform environment, a greater emphasis will be placed on prevention initiatives. Our partnership with MinuteClinic aligns perfectly with our mission of encouraging and promoting wellness in the communities served by our health system."
MinuteClinic and RWJ will begin to work toward integrating electronic medical record systems to streamline communication around all aspects of each individual’s care. With patient permission, MinuteClinic will electronically share medical histories and visit summaries with other facilities and physicians. In the meantime, MinuteClinic will continue its standard practice of sending patient visit summaries to primary care providers via fax or mail, typically within 24 hours, with patient consent.