Supervalu Inc., a company that two years ago was commonly described with words like “embattled,” is showing the strongest evidence yet of a turnaround.
The Eden Prairie-based supermarket company Wednesday posted its best quarter since CEO Sam Duncan took over in February 2013. The company’s three business segments posted concurrent sales gains, a rare event. And Supervalu handily topped Wall Street’s profit and sales forecasts.
“Today’s results clearly demonstrate management actions are gaining traction,” Rupesh Parikh, a stock analyst at Oppenheimer & Co., wrote in a report Wednesday.
Two years ago, Supervalu — owner of Cub Foods — undertook a major makeover, selling its four largest supermarket chains. The move halved the company’s size, reducing its direct exposure to the retail food business and increasing its focus on grocery wholesaling.
Supervalu’s financial results since have been slowly improving, and its stock has risen from $3 to around $9. The company’s shares closed Wednesday at $9.19, unchanged from the previous day. Parikh noted that while the company’s turnaround is encouraging, he views Supervalu’s shares as “fully valued” at $9 to $10.
Supervalu recorded net earnings of $12 million, or 4 cents per share, for its fiscal third quarter, ended Nov. 29. Adjusted for one-time charges, Supervalu had profits of $49 million, or 18 cents per share, 50 percent higher than a year earlier and 4 cents above analysts’ expectations.
The company reported $4.2 billion in sales for the third quarter, up almost 5 percent over last year and nearly 3 percent above forecasts.
“We couldn’t be more pleased with what we’ve seen,” Supervalu’s chief financial officer, Bruce Besanko, told stock analysts in a conference call Wednesday.
During Supervalu’s third quarter, all three of its divisions — wholesale grocery, the discount chain Save-A-Lot and conventional supermarkets — saw solid sales gains.
It was the “first quarter in over seven years where all three segments have simultaneously recorded such sales increases,” Duncan told analysts in a conference call.
Supervalu’s wholesale grocery operation, its largest business, had net sales of $1.9 billion, up 2.4 percent over a year ago. It was the first year-over-year sales gain in several quarters. “I’m especially pleased with the [wholesale] business and how that has progressed,” Duncan said in a conference call.
Supervalu’s retail food business, which includes Cub, had its best quarter in at least three years, with same-store sales rising 2.3 percent over a year ago. Same-store sales are an important gauge for retailers, taking into account recent store openings and closings.
Supervalu’s same-store sales had been positive for the three previous quarters, though the gains were all below 1 percent. Before that, Supervalu had suffered two years of declining sales at its supermarkets.
Save-A-Lot, Supervalu’s national low-price grocery chain, posted quarterly sales of $1.08 billion, up a healthy 8.9 percent over a year ago. The chain’s operating earnings, however, were down 15 percent due to higher advertising, employee and store occupancy costs, the company said.
Operating earnings were up in Supervalu’s wholesale and traditional retail businesses, compared with last year’s third quarter.