Kroger could end up owning a big slice of the online grocery business—but it’ll cost them.
That’s the take from Deutsche Bank , which on Tuesday downgraded Kroger to Sell from Hold, setting a $24 price target on the stock—14% below current levels and 11% off the average call among analysts surveyed by FactSet. Kroger stock closed down 4.8% Monday, to just below $28 per share.
Kroger “may be one of the winners in food retail over the long term,” wrote analyst Paul Trussell. “However, in a period of rapid change in the grocery sector it will likely be quite challenging to grow profits while playing from a position of weakness.”
There’s plenty to be gained: Online grocery sales are expected to boom in the U.S. Estimates vary, naturally; some numbers point to the market reaching $100 billion in about 5 years as more adults move purchases online. Another projection Barron’s covered had some 30 million adults ordering groceries through an app by 2022, up from about 18 million this year.
To get at this market, Deutsche Bank wrote, Kroger is trying a lot—from automated warehouses to Instacart to various customer-friendly pick-up experiments. It recently announced a pilot deal to let Walgreens customers order from Kroger online and pick up what they buy at the drugstores. Some of these efforts will likely work, but it may be awhile before the company can focus on those that perform best.
“Some, while worth exploring, may not pan out (and meanwhile are costly in terms of dollars and management’s time),” according to Trussell. “Kroger’s test-and-learn phase spans a diverse set of ideas, demonstrating management’s creativity and flexibility, but will also be expensive, in our view. Ultimately, we look forward to when the company will be able to focus on its best-performing strategies.”
In the near term, Wall Street is looking for annual earnings per share of $2.12, according to Factset, while the company has guided investors toward a number between $2 and $2.15.