Grocery retailer Metro sees a jump in profits

Grocery retailer Metro reported third-quarter profits of $275 million Wednesday, up nine per cent from a year earlier. The company CEO says labour shortages will weigh on future growth.

Grocery chain faces ongoing worker shortage, higher overtime pay to keep grocery stores open

A grocery store shopping cart holding various food items.
Grocery shopping in a Metro market in Montreal, Quebec. Strong margins in the company's pharmacy division made up for a decline in food gross margin in Metro's third-quarter results. (Ivanoh Demers/Radio-Canada)

Grocery retailer Metro reported third-quarter profits of $275 million Wednesday, a nine per cent rise from a year earlier.

Profits were largely lifted by pharmacy sales. 

"We had very strong front-store sales in our pharmacy business at Jean Coutu and Brunet in the quarter," Metro president and CEO Eric La Flèche said during a call to discuss the company's third-quarter results. "Over-the-counter cough and cold products are flying."

Overtime adding up amid labour shortage

But workers are putting in overtime to keep stores open as the company grapples with an ongoing labour crunch, the president of the Montreal-based chain said.

"There's a lot of open positions out there and there's not enough workers to fill them."

La Flèche said that there are "more open positions than we are used to," but declined to provide an exact number of vacancies across the company's warehouses and stores, which include conventional supermarkets like Metro and Metro Plus, discount grocery chains Super C in Quebec and Food Basics in Ontario, and drugstores Jean Coutu and Brunet.

"Labour shortages are causing pressures ... because that increases overtime to supply our stores," La Flèche said. "We have higher overtime percentages than we're used to."

Metro chief financial officer François Thibault warned that ongoing inflationary pressures and labour shortages could begin to weigh on margins.

"If this high-inflationary, high-price environment continues, it will continue to put pressure on margins," he said.

For now, Thibault indicated, strong margins in the company's pharmacy division made up for a decline in food gross margin. 

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