Australia’s Woolworths warns of slowing sales growth after first-half profit surge

(Reuters) – Woolworths Group on Wednesday warned of slowing sales growth ahead after a pandemic-driven surge in demand helped Australia’s largest supermarket chain post a 28% jump in the first-half profit.

The roll-out of COVID-19 vaccines and easing of restrictions are likely to weigh on retailers, who have benefited from customers stockpiling household goods during the lockdowns.

“We expect sales to decline over the March to June period compared to the prior year in all our businesses…as we cycle last year’s COVID surge,” Group Chief Executive Brad Banducci said.

Earlier this month, smaller rival Coles Group too had predicted a “significant” moderation in supermarket sales.

Woolworths, which operates more than 3,000 stores in the country, said the separation of its drinks and hospitality businesses, Endeavour Group, is expected to be completed in June.

Profit attributable from continuing operations came in at A$1.14 billion ($901.63 million), compared with A$887 million a year ago.

The company declared an interim dividend of 53 Australian cents per share, up from 46 cents a year earlier.