TORONTO — The resurgence of COVID-19 in many parts of North America in the last month of the fourth quarter had a residual impact on first-quarter results at Weston Foods, particularly in retail celebratory categories such as cakes, sit-down restaurants and Girl Scout cookies. But renewed signs of strength emerged later in the first quarter, the company said.
Operating income in the Weston Foods segment of George Weston Ltd. was a nominal loss in the first quarter of fiscal 2021 ended March 27, which compared with income of C$1 million in the first quarter of fiscal 2020. The decrease reflected a decline in the underlying operating performance of C$20 million, including an increase in depreciation and amortization, partially offset by the favorable year-over-year net impact of adjusting items totaling C$19 million. Adjusted EBITDA, meanwhile, fell 35% to C$34 million ($28 million) from C$52 million. Sales decreased 12% to C$472 million ($390.4 million) from C$535 million, with Girl Scout cookies accounting for about half the decline, the company said.
Richard Dufresne, president and chief financial officer of George Weston Ltd., said during a May 11 conference call with analysts that the company expects to launch the sale process for Weston Foods next week.
“We’re launching the sale process next week, which essentially means that that’s when we’re going to start contacting the potential people who’ve shown us interest in the business,” Mr. Dufresne said. “So this will be a normal M&A process though, where we’re going to be sending materials for them to review. They’re going to send us indications of interest, and then we’re going to review those. So I suspect that it’s probably going to take four, five months before we’re ready to announce something.”
He added that the company plans to use proceeds from the sale to return to shareholders in the form of share buybacks. The company also will consider using the proceeds if it finds opportunities in its existing business, he said.
Overall, George Weston sustained a loss of C$62 million in the first quarter, which compared with income of C$582 million a year ago. George Weston said the loss mainly was attributable to an unfavorable year-over-year impact of adjusted items totaling C$648 million, including the impact of the fair value adjustment of the Trust Unit liability. Sales increased narrowly to C$12.35 billion from C$12.33 billion.