Woolworths [ASX: WOW], Australia's biggest supermarket operator, said third quarter sales barely budged at its Countdown chain in New Zealand, in the face of a subdued, highly competitive market.
New Zealand supermarket sales edged up 0.1 percent to $1.4 billion in the 13 weeks ended April 6, the Sydney-based retailer said in a statement. The strength of the kiwi dollar meant sales rose 16 percent in Australian dollars.
The 167 Countdown supermarkets compete with larger rival Foodstuffs, made up of two regional cooperatives which have 139 New World stores, 50 PAK'nSave outlets, 283 Four Square outlets, liquor stores and wholesaling. Foodstuffs had annual sales of $8.6 billion in 2013, while Countdown's are running at an annualised $5.6 billion.
"Trading for the quarter was impacted by subdued grocery market conditions, a highly competitive marketplace and price deflation across a number of categories," said Dave Chambers, managing director of Woolworths' New Zealand supermarkets division.
Countdown is being investigated by the Commerce Commission following allegations from Labour MP Shane Jones that it engaged in anti-competitive behaviour over the treatment of local suppliers. Jones is leaving parliament after accepting a South Pacific economic advisory job for the government. Woolworths made no mention of the allegations in its quarterly results.
The parent company reported a 5.3 percent gain in third quarter sales to A$15.2 billion, led by a 4.4 percent gain to A$10.4 billion for Australian food and liquor.
Woolworths stock fell 2.6 percent to A$37.05 on the ASX and has gained 12 percent this year.