STELLARTON, N.S.Empire Co. Ltd. earned $261.0 million in its latest quarter, up from $187.5 million in the same quarter last year, boosted by the sale of its 56 gas stations in Western Canada to Shell Canada, the grocer said Thursday.

The profit amounted to $1.03 per share for the quarter ended Aug. 5, up from a profit of 71 cents per share a year earlier, said the grocer, which owns Sobeys, Safeway and other banners.

Sales in what was Empire's first quarter totalled $8.08 billion, up from $7.94 billion in the same quarter last year. Same-store sales were up 3.0 per cent, while same-store sales, excluding fuel, were up 4.1 per cent.

Empire chief executive Michael Medline said the company's 2024 financial year is off to a good start.

"Despite the ongoing volatility that the market continues to face, the results we delivered in Q1 demonstrate our team's ability to consistently execute, regardless of the economic environment," Medline said in a statement.

Empire, along with the other two biggest grocers Metro and Loblaw, has been under intense scrutiny ever since inflation took off. Food inflation has outpaced headline inflation for months, and the grocers have at times been accused of profiting off of inflation. They have denied these allegations, including before a parliamentary committee studying food inflation.

Empire completed the sale of its gas stations in Western Canada to Shell for $100 million during the quarter. The retailer said the deal boosted its quarterly results by $71.5 million.

Empire also took a $7.1-million restructuring charge in the quarter and recorded a $400,000 insurance recovery related to a cybersecurity incident in November 2022.

Adjusted net earnings were $196.2 million, up 4.6 per cent from $187.5 million.

On an adjusted basis, Empire said it earned 78 cents per share in its latest quarter, up from an adjusted profit of 71 cents per share a year earlier. The average analyst estimate had been for an adjusted profit of 75 cents per share, based on estimates compiled by financial markets data firm Refinitiv.

The company continues to execute on its strategy to maximize revenue in its full-service stores, which are losing traffic to discount banners, said RBC analyst Irene Nattel in a note. Empire reported double-digit sales growth in its discount stores, like other retailers have, as customers sought to save on groceries and household essentials.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 14, 2023.

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