Grocer Kroger can’t predict just how good 2020 will be anymore

Anne Riley Moffat

Kroger Co., one of the last remaining holdouts to maintain its 2020 guidance, says even it can no longer predict what the rest of its year will look like– but it’s going to be good.

The nation’s biggest traditional supermarket chain, which reported brisk sales that outpaced estimates for the first quarter, opted not to reaffirm its previous guidance or offer a new outlook when it reported earnings on Thursday.

Broadly, the chain expects to exceed the outlook shared in its April 1 business update for metrics including same-store sales, adjusted earnings and adjusted free cash flow. But Kroger is “not able to forecast the extent of such upside” as the U.S. consumer continues to change behavior in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, it said in a statement.

Shoppers at the Kroger grocery store in Grosse Pointe Woods fill their shopping carts on March 12, 2020.

First-quarter comparable sales excluding fuel, a key metric, soared 19%, beating analysts’ 13.6% estimate. Sales were fueled by Kroger’s expanded online pickup and delivery options, with digital sales up 92% in the period.

Kroger’s shares initially rose as much as 3% in premarket trading, before slipping back toward unchanged territory. They had already climbed 13% through Wednesday, even as the broader S&P 500 index fell 3.6% over the same period, as investors grew increasingly bullish on grocery stocks.