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Metro Inc.’s top executives say the chain plans to add more self-checkouts and electronic shelf labels to its stores in Ontario and Quebec and ramp up click-and-collect services for pharmacy at more than 250 locations in Ontario, Quebec and New Brunswick.

Eric La Flèche, president and CEO, and Francois Thibault, EVP and CFO, made the remarks during an earnings call with market analysts on November 17.

“For fiscal 2022, we plan on adding another 80 stores with self-checkouts and another 70 stores with electronic shelf labels,” stated Thibault, adding that “during the fiscal year, we opened our online dark store in Montreal and one at Adonis, and one at Food Basics in Ontario. We also relocated another Food Basics and carried out major renovations in nine stores representing a net increase of 260,000 square feet or 1.2% of our food retail network.”

La Flèche says Metro is on track with online grocery sales to increase its capacity with the ramp-up of its Montréal store and adds that the company is launching click-and-collect service at more than 250 stores.

“Customers will now be able to order online more than 20,000 products, including over-the-counter medicine and pick it up the same day at their local pharmacy. This new service is in addition to the long-standing delivery service for prescriptions and the more recent Cornershop platform for quick delivery of products.”

Metro reported a fourth-quarter profit of $194 million, up 4.0 per cent versus 2019.

When compared to the same quarter 2020, sales were down 1.2 per cent (up 6.0 per cent versus 2019), and food same-store sales declined 2.9 per cent (up 6.8 per cent versus 2019). Pharmacy same-store sales led the growth with Q4 2021 sales up 4.1 per cent versus 2020 and up 9.8 per cent versus 2019. Pharmacy sales saw a 6.7 percent increase in prescription drugs and a 1.1 per cent decrease in front-store sales as the prior year included a significant uplift in sales of COVID-19 related products such as masks and sanitizers.

Online food sales were flat versus last year (up about 160 per cent in 2020). Food basket inflation was approximately 2.0 per cent (1.0 per cent in the third quarter of 2021).

"We ended the 2021 fiscal year on a strong note with net earnings growth in the fourth quarter, despite lower sales as we cycled exceptional sales last year,” says Eric La Flèche, president and CEO of Metro Inc. “As government restrictions eased over the summer, a portion of food consumption transferred back to restaurants, however, our food sales continue to compare favourably to pre-pandemic levels. We continue to invest in the modernization of our supply chain, our network of stores, and our omnichannel strategy, with a record level of capital expenditures this year. I want to thank all our colleagues for their unwavering daily commitment to serve our customers during the pandemic while also successfully executing on our long-term strategic priorities.”

Addressing inflation challenges

La Flèche says Metro is well-positioned to address the current inflationary challenges.

“Everybody's looking for their piece of the pie; it's very aggressive and promotions are aggressive. It's hard to promote certain items with some of the inflation cost pressures we see, especially in meat. It makes it more difficult, but I think our merchandisers are experienced and can stickhandle through this. We've done it before, and I think we're well-positioned to face and stay competitive, but it's very competitive and we expect that to remain.”

Metro notes in its outlook that while it’s difficult to predict how the market and consumer shopping habits will change, “the fundamentals of our business remain strong, and our sales continue to compare favourably to pre-pandemic levels. Our industry is experiencing cost inflation pressures, mostly with respect to cost of goods sold, however, we will strive to continue to offer the best value possible to our customers. Our investments in our supply chain modernization projects remain on track with only minor delays due to the pandemic, and our e-commerce footprint continues to grow at a measured pace. As we begin a new fiscal year, our steadfast focus is on exceeding our customers' expectations every day while delivering on our strategic priorities.”

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