Sales boost at Ahold as recovery process begins

Bosses at Ahold, the troubled Dutch retail conglomerate, said on Monday that business recovery is 'on track' following a disastrous year.

In February last year, Ahold found itself at the centre of one of the biggest accounting scandals to shake the corporate world, when it revealed it had overstated earnings at its US Foodservice unit.

Net group sales fell 10.6 per cent to EUR56.1 billion (£37.3 billion) last year.

However, excluding currency effects, which also included a massive slide in the value of the US dollar, sales rose by 2.7 per cent.

Ahold chief executive Anders Moberg said the turbulent year, during which shares plummeted and a swathe of key executives departed, had also been characterised by 'a tough trading environment in our key markets'.

However, he revealed that all Ahold's main retail operations, barring Dutch supermarket business Albert Heijn, had posted net sales increases in local currencies.

Turnover at Albert Heijn, seen by many as the jewel in the Ahold crown, fell by 1.7 per cent. The supermarket chain is locked in a price war with local competitors, such as Laurus-owned Edah, Super De Boer and Konmar.

Ahold said the pricing strategy that saw Albert Heijn lower prices on 1,000 lines last October led to increased market share. However, poor consumer sentiment and 'negative market sentiment towards Albert Heijn' continued to dog sales.

Ahold's overall net loss last year was EUR1 million (£664,900) compared with EUR1.2 billion (£797.8 million) in 2002.