Carrefour SA

PARIS — Adding to the case for building well-functioning omnichannel services, Carrefour said Friday that restructuring efforts with an emphasis on e-commerce helped the retailer adapt quickly to shifting consumer needs as the coronavirus thrust it into a position on the front lines.

Carrefour kept stores open without interruption in France throughout the crisis, allowing consumers to buy groceries without shortages, the company’s chairman and chief executive officer Alexandre Bompard said in a livestreamed presentation of the annual shareholder meeting, noting an “unprecedented surge” in use of e-commerce and “drive” pickup services.

“Our proposal, which has become fully omnichannel and multiformat, has provided us with the agility necessary to adapt to the sudden changes in activity and consumption patterns that took place during the crisis,” Bompard said. The executive has steered the retailer’s turnaround efforts over the past two years with a focus on competitive pricing, bulked-up delivery services, organic produce and a range of store formats, reducing dependency on the sprawling, hypermarket stores.

“This crisis is not a parenthesis, we’re seeing that it has strongly accelerated existing trends, it will have a lasting effect on the behavior of our clients, and the societal role of our group, making it more necessary than ever to implement our new model,” noted Bompard.

The retailer drew on experience in Taiwan and Italy, where the virus spread before hitting France, he said, declaring that the company had taken measures beyond government requirements to protect workers and employees. Ticking off the list of efforts, he said Carrefour had equipped workers with sanitizer gel, masks, face visors, gloves and protective barriers at checkout stands. 

The group continues to disinfect all sites — headquarters, stores, warehouses and materials — and conduct regular health-care audits, which will continue in the longer term, he noted. 

“It was a human and logistical challenge of great magnitude to meet the high expectations of consumers,” added the executive, lauding coordinated efforts with producers, transporters and distributors to ensure the availability of groceries despite disruption in production and transport around the world.

“We managed to limit risks of shortfall and supported the agricultural industry and local producers—many were hit by the crisis,” he said.

Stressing the theme of solidarity that French President Emmanuel Macron has emphasized in speeches since the onset of the COVID-19 crisis, Bompard noted the retailer would work to assuage consumer fears about buying power by freezing prices on daily goods.

The executive also outlined measures to address consumers with special needs, like health-care workers and the sick and elderly with express delivery services, priority access to checkout lines and meal deliveries.

“Our group has become an essential actor for food — a public service,” he said.

Friday’s closed-door shareholder meeting contrasted sharply with the livelier versions in previous years, when the executive faced heated questions from union representatives.

Shareholders approved the renewal of terms for board directors Alexandre Arnault and Marie-Laure Sauty de Chalon, as well as the dividend, which was halved from an original amount announced in late February.

The company announced plans to lower the dividend in April, when it also shrunk the board in a bid to streamline operations as the crisis hit.

Carrefour’s sales rose 7.8 percent, like-for-like, over the first quarter, a period buffeted by volatility as the coronavirus ripped through its key markets, especially in Europe.

Carrefour is sticking with its 2022 objectives, which include reducing hypermarket space, reducing costs, selling off real estate, and increasing its offer of Carrefour-branded products.