Its stock may have dropped over 28% this year, but Kroger Co. (KR) is not too concerned about the the increasingly competitive grocery landscape in the wake of the Amazon.com Inc. (AMZN) Whole Foods deal.
Instead of aggressively developing its home delivery services or expanding its click-and-collect program, ClickList, Kroger will instead direct its focus on existing customers and their shopping experiences.
"There's a lot of noise in field right now," said CEO Rodney McMullen at the company's annual investor conference Wednesday, Oct. 10, on the media firestorm and market speculation spawned by Amazon's acquisition.
"The level of conversation on some of these things versus on if you actually go and look [at the reality], there's a massive difference," he later told reporters.
While competitors like Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. (WMT) have shelled out billions for delivery or e-commerce oriented platforms to compete with Amazon, Kroger will invest internally to drive existing customers to buy more stuff.
"The biggest thing we always focus on is the customers we already have and how can we get more on their baskets," McMullen told TheStreet. "We spend by far the majority of our energy on people who are already engaging with us."
Under its new plan called "Restock Kroger," the retailer will further develop customer data to offer them personalized recommendations, both as coupons and online. Kroger will also optimize up to 30% of its stores and expand its private brand offerings in the coming years.
And even though Kroger may not be the cheapest food retailer, it said in the investor conference, the retailer is able to incentivize shoppers to buy more products through fuel rewards, coupons and a loyalty program.
That's not to say Kroger is ignoring omnichannel options. By May of 2018, Kroger customers will be able to order beyond the 40,000 products available now through ClickList. A bulk of Kroger's acquisitions are data tech companies like Market6, a retail merchandising analytics firm.
As for home delivery, Kroger is okay for now partnering with third-party deliverers like Instacart. "It's not really our expectation to have our own fleet of trucks," CFO J. Michael Schlotman said at the conference. Kroger owns and operates a local delivery arm in the Denver, Colorado area as part of subsidiary supermarket King Sooper's ship-to-home pilot program.
But so far, it's been very expensive, McMullen said.
"It turns out that if we all lived on the same street, none of us would want stuff at the same time," he said. "In our markets, the places we've done delivery, it's really hard to get those economies up to scale."
So, how will it recover its stock value? By playing the long game, it seems.
"The business continues to generate strong free cash flow," McMullen said. The company expects to see $4.5 billion in free cash flow between 2018 and 2020--double what it reported for between 2015 and 2017.
"I always credit Warren Buffett but the other day someone told me it's Benjamin Graham that should credit this to, is 'in the short term, the market is a voting machine but in the long term, it's a weighing machine.'"
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