Sweden's top grocer ICA posts profit jump on more home cooking

STOCKHOLM (Reuters) - Sweden's biggest grocery chain ICA Sweden's core profit jumped 17% in the second quarter as people cooked and ate more at home due to the pandemic, its owner ICA Gruppen ICAA.ST said on Wednesday.

Sales rose 7% to 23.5 billion crowns ($2.72 billion) with online sales soaring 148% to account for a tenth of total sales.

Operating profit of 1.13 billion was up grew 17% excluding items affecting comparability.

It lost some market share as people travelled less to their holiday homes due to COVID-19, dampening demand at its relatively large share of small and mid-sized stores spread across the country.

Sweden has not had a strict lockdown during the pandemic.

ICA Gruppen said its other, smaller, businesses had been negatively affected by the pandemic during the quarter.

It said visits to its grocery chain Rimi Baltic in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania had not resumed to normal levels since the countries started to open up from lockdowns, and the chains’ core profit fell, as did their market share.

ICA Gruppen’s Swedish pharmacy chain Apotek Hjartat saw sales and profits fall due to a bigger-than-expected reverse effect from consumers’ hoarding in the first quarter.

“Hopefully we are now seeing the beginning to the end of the most acute consequences of the pandemic,” ICA Gruppen CEO Per Stromberg said in the earnings report.

“What is clear, however, is that the immediate impacts of the pandemic on society and our business that we have seen since March will be more enduring than what we could believe a few months ago.”

ICA Gruppen’s group operating profit rose 6% before one-offs to 1.45 billion crowns on sales up 5%.

Reporting by Anna Ringstrom; editing by Jason Neely