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A Sobeys Inc. truck sits outside one of the company's grocery store in Toronto, in this file photo. (Brent Lewin/Bloomberg)
A Sobeys Inc. truck sits outside one of the company's grocery store in Toronto, in this file photo. (Brent Lewin/Bloomberg)

Empire Co. profit falls as challenges in Western Canada persist Add to ...

Empire’s interim president and CEO says much of the difficulties the company faced in the last financial year came from missteps in the integration of Safeway operations.

“We were too inward focused during this transition and we couldn’t provide the service our customers deserve or expect,” said Francois Vimard during the annual general meeting for Empire Co. Ltd. on Thursday.

Vimard assumed the position temporarily after Marc Poulin left the post in early July. Empire gave no details as to why he left.

Poulin had led the company when it made the $5.8-billion deal to buy the Canadian Safeway assets in 2013. His departure came after the company posted $2.13-billion in net losses for its 2016 fiscal year.

The difficult economic climate, particularly in Alberta and Saskatchewan, amplified Empire’s integration problems, Vimard said.

“Certainly the overall downturn in the western economy didn’t help, but most of our challenges were self-inflicted and we are in a position to improve them,” Vimard said.

In the short-term, the company will concentrate on building sales, reducing costs and renewing focus on store-level execution, he said.

The company believes the direction it’s taking will help it see the return of long-term profitability, he added.

Empire also reported the first-quarter earnings of its 2017 fiscal year. It earned $65.4-million in its latest quarter compared with $108.8-million a year ago as its stores in Western Canada continued to struggle.

Empire said the profit for the quarter ended Aug. 6 totalled 24 cents per diluted share, down from 39 cents per diluted share a year ago.

Sales in what was the company’s first quarter amounted to $6.19-billion, down from $6.25-billion in the same quarter last year.

Excluding the negative impact of fuel sales, Empire said Sobeys’ same-store sales – a key metric that measures sales at locations open for more than a year – fell 1.2 per cent from the same period last year. Excluding fuel and its Western Canadian retail business, same-store sales would have increased 0.6 per cent.

On an adjusted basis, Empire said it earned a first-quarter profit of $73.6-million or 27 cents per diluted share compared with an adjusted profit of $121.7-million or 44 cents per diluted share a year ago.

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