Dairy Farm restructures as food fuels solid sales growth

“Underperforming” subsidiaries and rising rent and labour costs are disturbing the chairman of Hong Kong-listed multinational retailer Dairy Farm International – but those factors failed to prevent a solid second-half year performance.

Dairy Farm’s total sales rose 17 per cent to US$12.215 billion in the six months to June 30 and profit attributable to shareholders was $215 million, up 6 per cent. The increased sales came largely from the Yonghui supermarket operation and Maxim’s which owns food retail channels and the Starbucks business in Hong Kong, Singapore, Vietnam and Cambodia.

Chairman Ben Keswick said the health and beauty business in Hong Kong and Macau drove strong results in North Asia, but the Southeast Asian food businesses continued to face challenges producing a weaker overall performance.

“While the outlook for the remainder of the year is expected to remain challenging for the Food businesses, particularly in Southeast Asia, the group’s other businesses should continue to make steady progress. Significant management and structural changes have been made to address the issues the group faces in a number of areas, but time will be needed to deliver sustainable improvement.”

The company has consolidated its trading operations into a more centralised structure with two main trading divisions: North Asia and Southeast Asia, in addition to the standalone business of Home Furnishings (essentially Ikea) and Maxim’s.

Keswick says five strategic priorities have been identified: building capability, growing presence in Mainland China, protecting the group’s Hong Kong business, revitalising the Southeast Asia operations and driving digital innovation. “A series of programs are underway to support these priorities across all of the group’s businesses,” he said in the earnings statement.

In North Asia, overall sales within the food businesses were ahead of prior year, but profits declined, mainly due to higher rent and labour costs in Hong Kong. “The health and beauty business in Hong Kong and Macau delivered very strong sales and profit growth, driven by a significant increase in business from higher numbers of mainland Chinese tourists.”

Southeast Asia challenges

However, in Southeast Asia, challenging trading conditions continued for Dairy Farm’s food businesses.

“The group saw lower sales and profits in Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia, while in the Philippines, sales were higher but profits lower, due to increased operating costs resulting from more store openings. Generally, these businesses have suffered from a lack of investment in infrastructure, range and competitive pricing for some time, while competition in each market has been increasing.

“Turning these food businesses around and becoming more relevant to the changing demands of customers will take significant effort. Appropriate plans are now being put in place following the strategic review, but will require time to take effect,” said Keswick.

He said the improving performance of the majority of the group’s health and beauty businesses in Southeast Asia is encouraging, with Malaysia, Indonesia and Vietnam reporting better underlying results.

Dairy Farm’s convenience store operations (7-Eleven) performed well, with Hong Kong and Macau trading in line with last year.

“In Singapore, overall convenience store sales were slightly lower than last year due to the termination of a multi-site agreement, but profitability improved following the closure of some underperforming stores. Like-for-like sales increases and store expansion in Mainland China continued to underpin growth in this sector.

“In Home Furnishings, Ikea performed ahead of last year in Taiwan and Indonesia, with sales and profits growth. Hong Kong reported higher sales, helped by a contribution from the new store which opened in October last year, but associated higher operating costs resulted in reduced reduction in profits. Progress continues to be made on new store development in both Taiwan and Indonesia, with several sites under development. Meanwhile, e-commerce activities are showing increased results in all markets but from a small base.

Keswick said Maxim’s delivered another good performance and is continuing to expand its presence across Mainland China and Southeast Asia. In Hong Kong, Maxim’s opened its first Shake Shack in May with “encouraging initial results”.

Supermarket chain Yonghui reported strong sales growth and underlying profits from the core food business remained strong, but total profits were behind prior year due to the investment in new technology formats and the introduction of an employee incentive scheme announced earlier this year.

Philippines restructure

Meanwhile, back in March, the group announced it had agreed to partner with Robinsons Retail Holdings Inc. (‘RRHI’), the third largest retailer in the Philippines, to build a leading food retail business in that market. Dairy Farm will combine its Rustan Supercenters operations with RRHI to build on the combined strengths of both businesses, creating a new platform for growth. Following completion of the transaction, Dairy Farm would own 18.25 per cent of RRHI. The transaction, which is subject to certain regulatory approvals, is expected to be completed in the fourth quarter.

As at June 30, Dairy Farm, including associates and joint ventures, operated more than 7400 outlets across all formats, compared with 7181 at the end of last year.

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