By Kristen Cloud // National Grocers Association
FMS and the National Grocers Association (NGA) have released the results of the 2016 Independent Grocers Financial Survey, covering fiscal year 2015. This joint study polled independent supermarket operators in 38 states and four Canadian provinces on their financial performance and business strategies, and provides an in-depth look at the economic, political and competitive landscape in which these retailers operate. Fiscal year 2015 proved to be an improvement over 2014 with both sales and margins having increased despite a rise in expenses and stagnant food-at-home prices.
After a difficult 2014, independents increased their same-store sales by 2.1%, and with food-at-home inflation at 1.17% during 2015, adjusted sales gains came out at 0.84%, compared to -0.9% in 2014. Additionally, sales contributions shifted slightly away from non-perishables toward categories, such as meat and deli in 2015. Average weekly transactions were flat, indicating that independents were successful in growing their customers’ baskets.
“A stronger 2015 once again proves the resilience of the independent grocer,” says Robert Graybill, president and CEO of FMS. “In what are still uncertain economic times, independents managed to improve upon many financial indicators over 2014. While grocers in the Northeast continued to struggle after last year’s supplier turmoil, this year’s survey shows that they are headed in the right direction and are poised to continue to improve.”
For the first time in the history of this report, supercenters were not listed as independents’ top competitive threat, but instead were replaced by other conventional supermarkets. Despite independents’ top competition being conventional formats, they were able to grow their margins in total store and in most individual departments.
“In a fiercely competitive industry, independents are continuing to differentiate themselves in the marketplace and are doing so with much success,” said Peter J. Larkin, president and CEO of NGA. “Despite a challenging environment, independent supermarket operators continue to evolve to serve their customers.”
Expenses in 2015 slightly increased, driven mainly by a continued rise in labor and benefit costs. Healthcare costs remained as one of the top concerns facing independents and 71% of respondents reported that their healthcare costs increased in 2015. Despite the increases in healthcare, independents managed to keep total expense increases low.
Higher sales, better margins and only slightly increased expenses resulted in much stronger profits, reversing a two-year trend in which profits were lower than the previous year’s. In 2015, independent grocers reported net profits before taxes of 1.44%, compared to 0.91% in 2014. The average retailer managed to close the gap between their net profits and those of the “profit leaders,” which are the retailers who finish in the top 25% of net profits before taxes.
In addition to an overall look at independents financial performance, the 2016 Independent Grocers Financial Survey examines results by geographical region, sales volume, store count and net profits. Included in the study are articles and analysis from industry professionals on the financial and economic landscape and how it has affected independent grocers.
The survey is $75 for FMS customers/NGA members and $300 for non-members.