We have been strong on many fronts through fiscal 2016, with positive contributions from acquisitions, newly-opened stores and – most importantly – from our continuing organic growth. We have once again delivered a solid performance which is further enhanced by our new, global brand, Circle K®. The brand platform we have embraced across our entire business includes a clear call to action: “Let’s make it easy, so folks (our customers) can take it easy.”
Fiscal 2016 was our eighth straight year of record earnings. Our net earnings increased to $1,193.7 million, up 28.4% over fiscal 2015. Excluding non-recurring items, net earnings for fiscal 2016 would have been approximately $1,188.0 million, or $2.09 per share on a diluted basis – an increase of 16.7% compared with fiscal 2015. EBITDA for fiscal 2016 was $2,332.2 million, an increase of $456.7 million or 24.4% compared with fiscal 2015, including contribution from acquisitions.
We are continually working to improve our top line, simultaneously driving up same-store merchandising figures and increasing fuel volumes. In parallel we are actively working in all our operations to identify and implement synergies and to realize cost reduction opportunities.
Just after the closing of the fiscal year, we issued €750.0 million of senior unsecured notes on the European bond market with attractive conditions. We have significant operations in Europe and issuing these “Eurobonds” will allow us to further support those operations and our development in our European markets. The proceeds from the notes have been used to pay down a portion of amounts outstanding under our existing senior credit facilities and for other general corporate purposes. The transaction extends the maturity of our debt and our balance sheet remains strong, allowing us to capitalize on any opportunities that may arise.
On September 22, 2015, we announced our decision to unite our knowledge and experience, our commitment and passion for retail behind one powerful, global brand: Circle K®.
Our new, global Circle K® brand has already started replacing existing Circle K®, Statoil®, and Kangaroo Express® branding on stores and service stations across the United States and Europe, and it will soon be coming to Mac’s® in Canada. It is also appearing on licensed stores worldwide. Due to the specifics of the market in the province of Québec in Canada, we have chosen to retain our founding Couche-Tard® retail brand in that market.
The global Circle K® brand started rolling out to stores in the United States from January 2016. In Europe, the roll-out began in May 2016, while Canadian customers outside the province of Québec will begin to see the new Circle K® brand in May 2017.
This is much more than a signage exercise. We can already see that our new, global Circle K® brand positions us better than ever to reap the benefits of worldwide best practice sharing. Together with our call to action and the three operational pillars that support it – fast and friendly service, products for people on the go and easy visits – the brand platform establishes a strong framework that we want our customers to associate with us for many years to come.
Changing the Landscape
We are happy to report that, at the end of fiscal 2016, more than 400of our stores, mainly in the southeastern United States, have been rebranded to the global Circle K® brand. The former The Pantry’s Kangaroo Express®-branded stores in these areas were among the first to rebrand. Beyond just changing signs, we have introduced some of our global Circle K® concepts into these stores, including Polar Pop® and Simply Great Coffee®, with great success.
In Europe the roll-out of Circle K® in our three largest markets has just begun. As of May 3, 2016 we have started replacing the Statoil® brand in Norway, Sweden and Denmark at a rate of around one store per day in each country.
Giving up one of Scandinavia’s best-known and respected retail brands isn’t done without risk. But we are seeing the new Circle K® brand come alive at our stores and experiencing the commitment of all our people to their new brand. We also see very early, but very promising results from our rebranded sites. I am optimistic that we will be able to retain the strengths of the old brand and go on to make Circle K® even stronger in the years to come.
Performing in our key categories
In fiscal 2016, same-store merchandise revenues increased by 4.6% in the United States, including The Pantry stores, by 2.8% in Europe and by 2.9% in Canada. Overall, our performance is attributable to strong operations and fast and friendly customer service, our merchandising strategies and competitive offer and to our expanded fresh food assortment, which is attracting more customers into our stores.
Coffee that is Simply Great
The year has been characterized by strong contributions from organic growth in merchandise sales. One great example is the growing success of our Simply Great Coffee™program. Simply Great Coffee™ is now available in over 1,500 stores in our core markets in 21 business units across Europe and North America. The program is one of the main drivers of organic merchandise sales, with continuous double-digit unit growth. Our focus on taste, with high quality drinks and unique recipes for each country or region, has led to Simply Great Coffee™ being awarded “Best in Test” in four countries in Europe in 2016.
New Food Concepts
Our “Real HOT DOGSTM” concept has been rolled out to all our stores across 8 countries and 1,200 stores in Europe. The concept offers customers a great new experience within a well‑established category and is creating a new level of excitement and awareness. That in turn is delivering strong, double-digit volume growth. Taking its cue from “Real HOT DOGS™”, a totally new concept for the bakery category, featuring fresh baked-on-site products, is being prepared to roll out in Europe in fiscal 2017. Our total fresh food unit volume performance in Europe is up by 11.6%.
Driving great organic growth in North America are our new purpose‑built “foodvenience” (food prepared on-site plus convenience) stores, which have opened in 5 locations in fiscal 2016 and we have 21 additional stores planned for fiscal 2017. Our “Made To Go™” program continues to expand, with fresh, made-to-order, high quality food. We have also expanded our fresh delivery program into an additional 200 stores, with the goal of expanding fresh deliveries into 1,200 more stores over the next 2 years
We continue to roll out new private brand products and to search for new opportunities with the goal of improving profitability while providing real value to our customers. Private brand continues to be one of our fastest-growing products. We now have over 300 private brand products for sale in our stores
Going the Extra Mile
In fiscal 2016, same-store road transportation fuel volumes increased by 6.6% in the United States, including The Pantry stores, by 2.6% in Europe, and 0.9% in Canada due to – among other things – our pricing strategies and the growing contribution from our proprietary branded and premium fuels, including miles® and milesPLUS® in Europe.
During this past fiscal year, we completed the rebranding of our automated fuel sites in Scandinavia, from Statoil 1-2-3® and JET® to INGO®. We are very pleased with the outcome of this program, which has resulted in even better performance and greater customer preference for this dynamic young brand. We are taking lessons from this successful rebranding and applying them to our global Circle K® rebranding program.
Towards the end of the third quarter of fiscal 2016, we completed a review of our fuel branding, supply and distribution strategy in the southeastern part of the U.S. As a result, we decided to change the fuel branding of more than 1,000 of our sites in that region. We expect that this decision will allow us to realize significant synergies through higher fuel volumes and better pricing conditions from the new agreements.
Making the Most of Our Acquisitions
Discipline is vital in identifying the right acquisitions at the right price. Hard working, talented and committed integration teams are vital when it comes to making the most of those acquisitions.
Our integration of The Pantry stores, acquired at the end of fiscal 2015, is living up to its potential. Contributions from these stores played a significant role in fiscal year 2016 results. We are showing strong, positive same-store results in both in-store sales and fuel volumes. In addition, we have recorded $58.0 million in cost reductions before income taxes during fiscal year 2016 and since the acquisition. We are ahead of schedule on reaching our synergies target.
Meanwhile, the integration processes for our newest acquisitions, Shell in Denmark and Topaz in Ireland, are already well under way. The integration teams we have put together are very experienced and hard at work on their tasks. We expect both acquisitions to be significant contributors to the performance of our European operations in the coming fiscal year.
In a company profile in February, Forbes stated “…The real story [behind Couche-Tard] is how the company uses M&A to innovate its business”. In fact, we don’t just look for strategic opportunities, but also for which pieces of a target business are better than ours, that we can learn from. We seek to leverage economies of scale wherever we can, while identifying local innovations that the company can benefit from globally. This way we learn from every acquisition and turn the individual strengths of the businesses we acquire into our own strengths.
A perfect example of this is the Topaz acquisition. The addition of Ireland’s leading fuel and convenience retailer to our family of merchants brings with it an extensive and attractive convenience and fuel network, with good locations, quality forecourts and stores, an excellent food offering and very professional teams. On the convenience side, Topaz is among the best in the industry in Europe when it comes to food service. We are very excited about copying all of its great ideas with pride and bringing them to our stores across the rest of Europe and in North America.
Social and environmental responsibility is an integrated part of everyday life in any company. It is not a stand-alone part of our business; it is rooted in our DNA and how we work. All our product categories are dynamic and continuously developed towards greater sustainability and social responsibility, including fuel, car wash, coffee and fresh food.
We strive to offer a dynamic, fun working environment for our people and teams. We take pride in offering targeted training and development programs that provide the expertise our people need to grow and develop as merchants.
As a large, global company we offer significant opportunities for personal and professional growth and career advancement. A large percentage of our managerial teams are made up of individuals promoted from within through our succession planning processes. In addition, global mobility is on the rise in Couche-Tard. Already today we have several leadership exchanges in place between our European and North American operations.
Reducing Energy Consumption
In North America, we are in the sixth year of a continuing journey to reduce energy consumption in our stores, offices and other facilities. Year to date we have driven down energy consumption more than 3.3% through the use of LED lighting solutions, occupancy sensors, lighting controllers and heating, ventilation and air-conditioning optimizers – as well as a raised awareness of energy consumption among our employees. Over the last 4 years, we have driven down energy consumption by 14.7%.
More Eco-Friendly Fuels
Over the last few years, we have developed in Europe new and improved fuels under the brand miles®. The additives in miles® fuels make them more efficient and the increased mileage they deliver reduces emissions. We estimate that we have reduced CO2 emissions by the equivalent of 150,000 cars’ worth per year since launching our latest generation fuels.
Saving Water and the Environment
Couche-Tard has entered into a global agreement with the world’s largest producer of car washes. The agreement includes co-operation in developing even more efficient car washes in terms of both quality and energy.
In North America, we have reduced water consumption by nearly 6% in our operations. In Europe, “Eco”-labeled chemicals are now in use at all our car washes in Scandinavia and at many in Central and Eastern Europe. In addition, programs to replace outdated lighting units and to improve the water recycling and oil separation facilities at each car wash site are underway
Coffee with a Conscience
Today coffee is a destination product for our customers. Our sourcing, coffee blending, equipment and brewing procedures are all tailored and highly professional in our global concept, Simply Great CoffeeTM. Together with our suppliers, we are continually working to reduce our carbon footprint throughout the total value chain. Coffee packaging is an example of one element of our coffee concept that is already positively contributing to this equation.
Healthier Choices for People on the Go
We are continually developing our food service offering. Hot dogs and hamburgers still dominate the preferences of our customers on the go, but we have succeeded in introducing a variety of healthy food and drink alternatives, from smoothies and juices to salads and wraps. During fiscal 2016 in Europe, we participated in the World Health Organization’s salt initiative, which aims to lower the salt content of prepared foods to support a healthier lifestyle.
At Couche-Tard, we are active members of the communities in which we operate. It’s one way to get to know the people we serve a little bit better and to have a positive impact on their lives.
This year, out community efforts resulted in raising more than $23 million in donations for various organizations dedicated to the well-being of others, specifically with a focus on youths.
We take great pride in our collaborations with Le Club des Petits Déjeuners, Big Brothers Big Sisters, Captain’s Canuck’s Crime Stopper and Froster Active Kids in Canada. We support the Victory Junction Camp, Salute our Troops, the March of Dimes and the Red Cross in the U.S. In Europe, we partner with the Pink Ribbon Campaign, the Norwegian Cancer Society and BRIS (an organization focusing on the rights of youths in society).
We are proud of, and grateful for, the energy, enthusiasm and commitment our people show as they actively engage in these causes and others across the globe.
Fiscal 2017 will be a year of integrating and learning from our newest acquisitions – Topaz in Ireland and Shell in Denmark. We also very much look forward to completing our acquisition of the Esso-branded Imperial Oil locations in Québec and Ontario.
The journey to become the world’s preferred destination for convenience and fuel continues, as we strive to create an ever-more modern convenience store. This can only be done by making things clear and simple for ourselves and as easy as possible for our customers. We will be focused on the three pillars of our global platform – fast and friendly service, products for people on the go and easy visits. As a united global brand, we will be stronger than all our individual brands combined. We will benefit even more from our scale, international presence and expertise, while relentlessly focusing on our customers. This is the foundation we will build upon.
In closing, I want to thank the 100,000+ people that make up the Couche-Tard family of merchants for their hard work and dedication, and for their efforts to make it just a little bit easier for our millions of customers, every day.
President & Chief Executive Officer