Natural Grocers by Vitamin Cottage's net sales in FY2021 exceeded the company's record-breaking sales of just a year ago, Co-president Kemper Isely announced Thursday.
Natural Grocers reported net sales of $1.06 billion for the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30, a 1.8% increase from fiscal 2020, when the company first broke $1 billion. FY21's net sales are 16.8% higher than net sales from FY2019.
This is Natural Grocers' 18th consecutive year of positive comparable store sales growth, the company reported.
"Our commitment to our founding principles continues to drive our success, as evidenced by our strong results. We've seen an increase in customer engagement and loyalty," Isely told investors during the afternoon earnings call. "We believe our carefully vetted offerings of natural and organic products, at always affordable prices, continues to resonate with consumers as they have developed a strong appreciation for the value of healthy nutrition and dietary supplements as a result of the pandemic."
The company has seen an increase in customer engagement and loyalty, Isely said. Membership in its loyalty program, Npower, has increased to 1.5 million customers, from 1.5 million last year and 1 million in FY19. Those customers accounted for 72% of Q4 sales, up from 68% a year ago, he said.
Private label products, which Isely described as a key point of differentiation, are a sales growth driver, he said. They now make up 7.1% of Natural Grocers' sales. The company introduced 185 new SKUs during fiscal 2021, for a total of about 1,000 SKUs at the end of the fiscal year. The company re-launched its private label supplements in March.
"Our branded supplements growth exceeded the category growth in the fourth quarter, demonstrating customers' interest in our high quality and affordable offerings," Isely said.
Supplement sales increased 10% from a year ago, CFO Todd Dissinger said, and 20% over FY2019.
Comparing fourth quarters
Customers are making more trips to the stores than they did a year ago, Dissinger said, but basket size has fallen only slightly: Traffic increased 3.4% and basket sized dropped 0.8% compare with Q4 2020. Basket size is still 20% higher than it was in Q4 of fiscal 2019, he said.
The company saw fewer out-of-stock products in Q4 than it did a year ago, but the rate was still higher than it was before the COVID-19 pandemic.
Q4 2021 compared favorably to Q4 2020:
- Net sales increased 3.2% to $272.6 million from $264.2 million.
- Daily average comparable store sales increased 2.5%, and 15.7% on a two-year stacked basis.
- Net income increased 93.3% to $7.2 million; this is a 342.2% increase from the same period in FY19.
- Gross margin increased to 27.8% from 27.4% a year ago.
- Diluted earnings per share was $0.32, up from $0.16 in the fourth quarter of fiscal 2020.
- Adjusted EBITDA was $17.8 million, compared with $13.6 million in Q4 a year ago. EBITDA has been adjusted to exclude dividend payments, and the Q4 2020 has been recast to reflect that change.
- EBITDA increased 30.8% to $16.5 million compared with $12.6 million for the same period a year ago.
- EBITDA as a percentage of net sales was 6.1% for Q4 2021 and 4.8% for Q4 2020.
The company opened one store in Q4, in Springfield, Missouri. It also relocated one store in Columbia, Missouri, and remodeled one story in Wichita, Kansas.
The company also announced a Q4 dividend of $.10 per share, an increase from $.07 per share, which has been the dividend since Q4 of fiscal 2019. The dividend will be paid on Dec. 15 to stockholders of record at the close of business on Nov. 29.
"The dividend increase reflects our strong operating performance and financial position, our confidence in our business model and our commitment of returning value to our shareholders," Isely said.
Fiscal 2021 compared with FY20
In the year just ended, the company saw gross margin improve due to improved product margin, lower shrink, and reduced occupancy expenses, Natural Grocers reported. Year-end financial details included:
- Net sales increased 1.8% to $1.1 billion.
- Daily average comparable store sales increased 0.7%, and 12.7% on a two-year stacked basis.
- Net income was $20.6 million, with diluted earnings per share of $0.91, up from $0.89 in fiscal 2020.
- Gross margin for FY21 27.7%, compared with 27.3% for FY20.
- Adjusted EBITDA was $60.3 million, compared with a recast adjusted EBITDA of $60.7 million in fiscal 2020, to account for the exclusion of dividend payments.
- EBITDA decreased 1.7% to $58.0 million FY2021 compared with $58.9 million for FY2020.
- EBITDA as a percentage of net sales was 5.5% for FY21 and 5.7% for FY 20.
- Adjusted EBITDA decreased 0.6% to $60.3 million for fiscal 2021, compared with $60.7 million fiscal 2021.
- Adjusted EBITDA as a percentage of net sales was 5.7% and 5.9% for the years ended Sept. 30, 2021, and 2020, respectively.
For the year, Natural Grocers opened three new stores and relocated or remodeled five stores. It ended the year with 162 stores in 20 states; it's signed leases or acquired property for four additional stores. It expects to open four to six stores in fiscal 2020, and to move or remodel three or four others.
Natural Grocers expects COVID-19 to continue to affect the economy during fiscal year 2022. It predicts that comparable store sales will range from flat to 2.0% growth, and that diluted earnings per share will fall between $0.75 to $0.87.