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Ahold reported consolidated net sales of 8.1 billion euros (US $9.4 billion) for the fourth quarter of 2014, an increase of 7.9 percent from the year-ago period. Net sales were up 2.6 percent.
For the full year 2014, the Zandam, Netherlands-based retail conglomerate’s consolidated net sales came to 32.8 billion euros (US $38.1 billion), edging up 0.5 percent from last year. Net sales grew 0.8 percent.
"In the United States, we were pleased with the progress of our program to improve our customer proposition, which was deployed to 523 stores by the end of the year," Ahold said in a trading statement. "Identical sales excluding gasoline increased 0.3 percent, compared to -2.0 percent last year and -0.2 percent in the previous quarter, adjusted for the market disruption in New England. Net sales were down 0.5 percent in the fourth quarter, reflecting lower gas sales due to significant price deflation. Market share for the fourth quarter and for the full year was down slightly, mainly related to Giant Landover. Investments in our customer proposition continue to be largely funded by cost reductions from our Simplicity program, and we expect underlying operating margin for the fourth quarter to be broadly in line with the previous quarter."
Meanwhile, closer to home, the company posted "significantly improved" net sales, which were up 4.5 percent in Q4 as a result of 2.2 percent identical sales growth and further expansion of the Albert Heijn network of stores in the Netherlands and Belgium. Ahold attributed the sales increase to "a strong holiday performance from Albert Heijn stores and our online businesses Albert Heijn Online and bol.com."
The company further added that it expected its free cash flow for the year to be higher than it predicted in its previous outlook.
In other news, Ahold revealed that Sander van der Laan would step down as CEO of Albert Heijn as of Feb. 1, and be succeeded by Wouter Kolk, currently the retailer's EVP specialty stores and new markets. Van der Laan, who joined Ahold in 1998, held such roles as president and CEO of Pennsylvania-based Giant Carlisle, which he assumed in 2008, before returning to the Netherlands two years later to take the helm at Albert Heijn.