Kroger backs outlook as it explores sale of its convenience stores

Kroger on Wednesday reaffirmed its forecast for 2017 amid a growing grocery price war with players like Amazon-owned Whole Foods, Wal-Mart, and low-price leaders Aldi and Lidl.

Kroger also announced it’s exploring strategic alternatives, with the help of Goldman Sachs, for its convenience store business, including a potential sale. Kroger operates more than 780 convenience stores across 18 states.

Kroger shares were climbing nearly 6 percent on the news.

At its annual investor meeting being held in New York, Kroger laid out its “Restock” plan, which will consist of heavy capital investments — $9 billion over the next three years — coupled with cost savings in certain business segments.

Kroger said it expects to generate more than $4 billion of free cash flow over the next three years, nearly double what the chain has generated since 2014.

“We have the scale, the data, the physical assets and human connection to win,” said CEO Rodney McMullen. “Restock Kroger builds on our strengths and strategically repositions Kroger to accelerate our customer-centered efforts in order to create shareholder value.”

For 2017, Kroger still expects adjusted earnings to fall within a range of $2 to $2.05 per share. Identical supermarket sales, excluding fuel, should still be up 0.5 to 1 percent, the company reaffirmed Wednesday.

Looking ahead, the Cincinnati, Ohio-based retailer said it anticipates earnings per share to be flat to “slightly-up” next year, without offering additional guidance. Though, CFO Mike Schlotman did add that identical supermarket sales should be stronger next year.

Even with Wednesday’s gains, Kroger has seen its stock fall more than 37 percent this year. The grocery chain has taken a beating ever since Amazon announced its plans in June to acquire Whole Foods.

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“We are gaining market share, but we’ve allowed others to gain share more than we would be happy with,” McMullen told investors on Wednesday. “We need to move faster in digital.”

This is a developing story. Please check back for updates.