Empire Company Ltd. saw same-store sales jump 37 per cent for the four-week period starting March 8, excluding fuel and Easter.
The company released a business update related to the impact of the recent COVID-19 outbreak, noting that it also expects to make further gains from the restaurant and hospitality sector because of stay-at-home restrictions.
“Management’s top priorities are ensuring the health and safety of our teammates and customers, keeping our shelves stocked, and supporting charitable organizations to immediately address urgent needs in communities across Canada,” said Michael Medline, president and CEO, Empire. “All of our grocery and pharmacy locations have adapted to ensure we can continue to operate as an essential service, providing Canadians with affordable food and other vital products during this terrible pandemic. A huge thank you to our teammates in our stores and distribution centres who are working so hard to serve our customers.”
The company says initial demand was for shelf-stable grocery items, but states that the sales mix has now returned to “more usual levels, across both grocery and fresh categories.”
It continues to see a high demand for canned goods, baking supplies and cleaning and sanitization products.
“In these unprecedented times, it is too early to forecast sales in the medium term, but management anticipates a percentage of consumption will shift from restaurants and hospitality businesses to grocery stores for as long as stay-at-home restrictions remain in force. Same-store sales growth recorded by Empire, excluding fuel, in the two weeks before Easter averaged 24%.”
Empire Company’s supply chain has been “resilient to date” because of automated distribution centres that have been able to restock stores quickly.
Empire reiterated in its statement that it will continue to focus on ensuring prices in store “continue to be competitive” and will be “vigilant in its attempts to avoid passing on cost increases to customers.”
Delayed store openings
Empire says it’s evaluating the impact of the pandemic on its expansion plans and states that it anticipates “certain FreshCo and Farm Boy store openings may be delayed.”
Accelerating online grocery offerings
The company is also accelerating its online offerings across the country to meet unprecedented demand for online grocery.
“Empire’s e-commerce businesses in Quebec through IGA.net and in B.C. through Thrifty Foods have seen a significant increase in orders through this pandemic. Online grocery penetration is growing dramatically across the country, which management anticipates will likely remain elevated in the long-term as customers become more comfortable with online grocery delivery.
Empire’s online grocery home delivery service Voilà, has been accelerated to meet the increasing demand from customers for delivery. The company says it plans to begin testing in areas of the GTA the week of April 26, 2020. Voilà’s phased rollout across the GTA will begin when testing is successfully completed.