Carrefour SA

PARIS — Spurred by strong demand for food, Carrefour reported a 7.8 percent rise in like-for-like sales over the first quarter, a period buffeted by volatility as the coronavirus ripped through its key markets, especially in Europe. 

Sales for the first three months of the year totaled 19.45 billion euros, lifted by growth in food sales, offsetting lower demand for non-food products, and a sharp rise in online business.

“We are out of the emergency stage but not yet out of lockdown — nor, of course, out of the crisis. This means that we are still living in uncertain times,” said Alexandre Bompard, Carrefour chairman and chief executive officer speaking in a conference call with analysts. 

Sales in France, the group’s most important market, rose 4.3 percent on a like-for-like basis, to reach 9.29 billion euros, despite a 6.1 percent dip in non-food sales.

Bompard and Matthieu Malige, the group’s chief financial officer, noted that consumption patterns are very hard to identify as the situation has varied greatly from week to week, with strong sales of food — especially dry goods — ahead of lockdowns, followed by a strong performance in convenience stores during the lockdown periods. Internet commerce, meanwhile, grew quickly, up 45 percent, during the period. 

In a study published last week, research company Nielsen Holdings flagged an increase in market share of online commerce in France, jumping from 7.4 percent in the pre-lockdown period to 9.5 percent while the lockdown was in place.

The Carrefour executives noted that in the current, volatile market, it makes sense to offer shoppers a variety of different sizes of stores—the company has recently bulked up its fleet of smaller, convenience stores favored by consumers in recent years after relying for decades on the popularity of its large, out-of-town hypermarket stores.

“Being multiformat is a key asset when consumption trends change very rapidly,” noted Bompard.

The sprawling hypermarkets, that sell everything from dishwashers to cheese, may see a resurgence in business, suggested the ceo. While the group has been reducing the size of hypermarket stores, they may prove their usefulness in this pandemic era, offering one-stop shopping and more space for social distancing. 

Bompard, who has been steering a two-year overhaul of the company, with a focus on lower prices, local and organic produce and internet services, noted that streamlining efforts resulted in improved reactivity during the crisis. 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. 

Offering reassurance to investors, executives noted that the company has 3.9 billion euros in undrawn credit facilities. 

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