COVID-19 pandemic tests limits grocery supply chains
Amid scenes of serpentine lines at checkout counters and empty store shelves, at least one analyst has quantified how Canada’s largest grocers may benefit from panic buying and at-home dining.
In a note to clients, Desjardins analyst Chris Li wrote the average Canadian household spends about $5,900 annually on grocery-store food each year and $2,600 on restaurant food.
If Canadians, in a bid to avoid infection and cooperate with calls for social distancing, eschew dining out and embrace their inner chefs, the impact on Loblaw Companies Ltd., Metro Inc. and Sobeys parent Empire Company Ltd. would be material, Li argued.
"Assuming spending on restaurants is reduced by [about] 10 per cent for six months as people eat out less and that the spending shifts to grocery stores... we estimate this will lift the Big 3’s sales this year by [about] one per cent," he wrote.
And that could translate to a two to four per cent increase to earnings per share for each grocer this year, Li added.
The analysis comes days after Loblaw announced plans to “staff up” at stores, eliminate grocery pickup fees and reduce the cost of home delivery.
It also follows news that Walmart is reducing hours at its U.S. to allow staff sufficient time to restock shelves.
BNN Bloomberg contacted Empire, Loblaw and Walmart Canada for details on whether they plan to shorten store hours, but did not hear back before publication.
In a similarly upbeat recent note by CIBC's Mark Petrie and John Zamparo, the analysts argued Canada's grocers are well-positioned to withstand the fallout of the spread of COVID-19 thanks to their central role in feeding Canadians.
But while Petrie and Zamparo argued Empire may be more exposed to a recession than its peers because its discount brand FreshCo is only available in Ontario, Desjardins' Li sees more upside for Sobey's parent company.
In his note, the analyst argued Empire's earnings stand to benefit the most during this panic-ridden time because grocery accounts for most of its earnings.
Loblaw and Metro, on the other hand, have sizeable pharmacy businesses.