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UNITED STATES

SECURITIES AND EXCHANGE COMMISSION

Washington, D.C. 20549

FORM 10-K

(Mark One)

ANNUAL REPORT PURSUANT TO SECTION 13 OR 15(d) OF THE SECURITIES EXCHANGE ACT OF 1934

For the fiscal year ended January 29, 2022.

OR

TRANSITION REPORT PURSUANT TO SECTION 13 OR 15(d) OF THE SECURITIES EXCHANGE ACT OF 1934

For the transition period from                    to                   

Commission file number 1-303

THE KROGER CO.

(Exact name of registrant as specified in its charter)

Ohio

    

31-0345740

(State or Other Jurisdiction of Incorporation or Organization)

(I.R.S. Employer Identification No.)

1014 Vine Street, Cincinnati, OH

45202

(Address of Principal Executive Offices)

(Zip Code)

Registrant’s telephone number, including area code (513) 762-4000

Securities registered pursuant to Section 12(b) of the Act:

Title of each class

Trading Symbol

Name of each exchange on which registered

Common, $1.00 Par Value

KR

New York Stock Exchange

Securities registered pursuant to Section 12(g) of the Act:

NONE

(Title of class)

Indicate by check mark if the registrant is a well-known seasoned issuer, as defined in Rule 405 of the Securities Act.

Yes  

No  

Indicate by check mark if the registrant is not required to file reports pursuant to Section 13 or Section 15(d) of the Act.

Yes  

No  

Indicate by check mark whether the registrant (1) has filed all reports required to be filed by Section 13 or 15(d) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 during the preceding 12 months (or for such shorter period that registrant was required to file such reports), and (2) has been subject to such filing requirements for the past 90 days.

Yes  

No  

Indicate by check mark whether the registrant has submitted electronically every Interactive Data File required to be submitted pursuant to Rule 405 of Regulation S-T (§232.405 of this chapter) during the preceding 12 months (or for such shorter period that the registrant was required to submit such files).

Yes  

No  

Indicate by check mark whether the registrant is a large accelerated filer, an accelerated filer, a non-accelerated filer, a smaller reporting company, or an emerging growth company. See the definitions of “large accelerated filer,” “accelerated filer,” “smaller reporting company,” and “emerging growth company” in Rule 12b-2 of the Exchange Act.

Large accelerated filer     

Accelerated filer     

Non-accelerated filer     

Smaller reporting company     

Emerging growth company     

If an emerging growth company, indicate by check mark if the registrant has elected not to use the extended transition period for complying with any new or revised financial accounting standards provided pursuant to Section 13(a) of the Exchange Act.  

Indicate by check mark whether the registrant has filed a report on and attestation to its management's assessment of the effectiveness of its internal control over financial reporting under Section 404(b) of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act (15 U.S.C. 7262(b)) by the registered public accounting firm that prepared or issued its audit report.

Indicate by check mark whether the registrant is a shell company (as defined by Rule 12b-2 of the Exchange Act).

Yes  

No  

The aggregate market value of the voting and non-voting common equity held by non-affiliates computed by reference to the average bid and asked price of such common equity, as of the last business day of the registrant’s most recently completed second fiscal quarter (August 14, 2021). $31.8 billion.

The number of shares outstanding of the registrant's common stock, as of the latest practicable date. 723,308,230 shares of Common Stock of $1 par value, as of March 23, 2022.

Documents Incorporated by Reference:

Portions of Kroger’s definitive proxy statement for its 2022 annual meeting of shareholders, which shall be filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission within 120 days after the end of the fiscal year to which this Report relates, are incorporated by reference into Part III of this Report.

The Kroger Co.

Form 10-K

For the Fiscal Year Ended January 29, 2022

Table of Contents

Page

Part I

2

Item 1

Business

3

Item 1A

Risk Factors

11

Item 1B

Unresolved Staff Comments

19

Item 2

Properties

19

Item 3

Legal Proceedings

19

Item 4

Mine Safety Disclosures

20

Part II

20

Item 5

Market for Registrant’s Common Equity, Related Stockholder Matters and Issuer Purchases of Equity Securities

20

Item 6

Reserved

22

Item 7

Management’s Discussion and Analysis of Financial Condition and Results of Operations

23

Item 7A

Quantitative and Qualitative Disclosures About Market Risk

49

Item 8

Financial Statements and Supplementary Data

51

Item 9

Changes in and Disagreements with Accountants on Accounting and Financial Disclosure

96

Item 9A

Evaluation of Disclosure Controls and Procedures

96

Item 9B

Other Information

96

Item 9C

Disclosure Regarding Foreign Jurisdictions that Prevent Inspections

96

Part III

97

Item 10

Directors, Executive Officers and Corporate Governance

97

Item 11

Executive Compensation

97

Item 12

Security Ownership of Certain Beneficial Owners and Management and Related Stockholder Matters

97

Item 13

Certain Relationships and Related Transactions, and Director Independence

98

Item 14

Principal Accounting Fees and Services

98

Part IV

99

Item 15

Exhibits, Financial Statement Schedules

99

Item 16

Form 10-K Summary

101

Signatures

102

PART I

FORWARD LOOKING STATEMENTS.

This Annual Report on Form 10-K contains forward-looking statements about our future performance. These statements are based on our assumptions and beliefs in light of the information currently available to us. These statements are subject to a number of known and unknown risks, uncertainties and other important factors, including the risks and other factors discussed in “Risk Factors” below, that could cause actual results and outcomes to differ materially from any future results or outcomes expressed or implied by such forward looking statements. Such statements are indicated by words such as “achieve,” “affect,” “anticipate,” “believe,” “committed,” “continue,” “could,” “deliver,” “effect,” “estimate,” “expects,” “future,” “growth,” “intends,” “likely,” “may,” “model,” “objective,” “plan,” “position,” “range,” “result,” “strategy,” “strive,” “strong,” “target,” “trend,” “will” and “would,” and similar words or phrases. Moreover, statements in the sections entitled Risk Factors, Management’s Discussion and Analysis of Financial Condition and Results of Operations (“MD&A”), and elsewhere in this report regarding our expectations, projections, beliefs, intentions or strategies are forward-looking statements within the meaning of Section 21E of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934, as amended.

Various uncertainties and other factors could cause actual results to differ materially from those contained in the forward-looking statements. These include:

The extent to which our sources of liquidity are sufficient to meet our requirements may be affected by the state of the financial markets and the effect that such condition has on our ability to issue commercial paper at acceptable rates. Our ability to borrow under our committed lines of credit, including our bank credit facilities, could be impaired if one or more of our lenders under those lines is unwilling or unable to honor its contractual obligation to lend to us, or in the event that global pandemics, including the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic (including any variant), natural disasters or weather conditions interfere with the ability of our lenders to lend to us. Our ability to refinance maturing debt may be affected by the state of the financial markets.

2

Our ability to achieve sales, earnings and incremental FIFO operating profit goals may be affected by: COVID-19 pandemic related factors, risks and challenges, including among others, the length of time that the pandemic continues, future variants, mutations or related strains of the virus and the effectiveness of vaccines against variants, continued efficacy of vaccines over time and availability of vaccine boosters, the extent of vaccine refusal, and global access to vaccines, as well as the effect of vaccine and/or testing mandates and related regulations, the potential for additional future spikes in infection and illness rates including breakthrough infections among the fully vaccinated, and the corresponding potential for disruptions in workforce availability and customer shopping patterns, re-imposed restrictions as a result of resurgence and the corresponding future easing of restrictions, and interruptions in domestic and global supply chains or capacity constraints; whether and when the global pandemic will become endemic, the pace of recovery when the pandemic subsides or becomes endemic, which may vary materially over time and among the different regions we serve; labor negotiations; potential work stoppages; changes in the unemployment rate; pressures in the labor market; changes in government-funded benefit programs; changes in the types and numbers of businesses that compete with us; pricing and promotional activities of existing and new competitors, including non-traditional competitors, and the aggressiveness of that competition; our response to these actions; the state of the economy, including interest rates, the current inflationary environment and future potential inflationary and/or deflationary trends and such trends in certain commodities, products and/or operating costs; the geopolitical environment; unstable political situations and social unrest; changes in tariffs; the effect that fuel costs have on consumer spending; volatility of fuel margins; manufacturing commodity costs; diesel fuel costs related to our logistics operations; trends in consumer spending; the extent to which our customers exercise caution in their purchasing in response to economic conditions; the uncertainty of economic growth or recession; stock repurchases; changes in the regulatory environment in which we operate; our ability to retain pharmacy sales from third party payors; consolidation in the healthcare industry, including pharmacy benefit managers; our ability to negotiate modifications to multi-employer pension plans; natural disasters or adverse weather conditions; the effect of public health crises or other significant catastrophic events; the potential costs and risks associated with potential cyber-attacks or data security breaches; the success of our future growth plans; the ability to execute our growth strategy and value creation model, including continued cost savings, growth of our alternative profit businesses, and our ability to better serve our customers and to generate customer loyalty and sustainable growth through our strategic moats of fresh, Our Brands, personalization, and seamless; and the successful integration of merged companies and new partnerships.

Our ability to achieve these goals may also be affected by our ability to manage the factors identified above. Our ability to execute our financial strategy may be affected by our ability to generate cash flow.

Our effective tax rate may differ from the expected rate due to changes in tax laws, the status of pending items with various taxing authorities, and the deductibility of certain expenses.

We cannot fully foresee the effects of changes in economic conditions on our business.

Other factors and assumptions not identified above, including those discussed in Part 1, Item 1A of this Annual Report, could also cause actual results to differ materially from those set forth in the forward-looking information. Accordingly, actual events and results may vary significantly from those included in, contemplated or implied by forward-looking statements made by us or our representatives. We undertake no obligation to update the forward-looking information contained in this filing.

ITEM 1.

BUSINESS.

The Kroger Co. (the “Company” or “Kroger”) was founded in 1883 and incorporated in 1902. We are one of the world’s largest retailers, as measured by revenue. Our retail business is built on the foundation of our market leading position in food retail which includes the added convenience of our retail pharmacies and fuel centers. Our market leading position in food retail reflects the strength of our competitive moats of Fresh, Our Brands, Data & Personalization and Seamless, and our unique combination of assets.

We also leverage the data and traffic generated by our retail business to deliver incremental value and services for our customers that generates alternative profit streams. These alternative profit streams would not exist without our core retail business.

3

Kroger is diversified across brands, product categories, channels of distribution, geographies and consumer demographics. Our unique combination of assets include the following:

Stores

As of January 29, 2022, Kroger operates supermarkets under a variety of local banner names in 35 states and the District of Columbia. As of January 29, 2022, Kroger operated, either directly or through its subsidiaries, 2,726 supermarkets, of which 2,252 had pharmacies and 1,613 had fuel centers.  Approximately 50% of our supermarkets were operated in Company-owned facilities, including some Company-owned buildings on leased land.  Our stores operate under a variety of banners that have strong local ties and brand recognition. We connect with customers through our expanding seamless ecosystem and the consistent delivery of a full, fresh, and friendly customer experience. Fuel sales are an important part of our revenue, net earnings and loyalty offering.  Our fuel strategy is to include a fuel center at each of our supermarket locations when it is feasible and it is expected to be profitable.  Each fuel center typically includes 5 to 10 islands of fuel dispensers and storage tanks with capacity for 40,000 to 50,000 gallons of fuel. Supermarkets are generally operated under one of the following formats: combination food and drug stores (“combo stores”); multi-department stores; marketplace stores; or price impact warehouses.

The combo store is the primary food store format.  They typically draw customers from a 2-2.5 mile radius.  We believe this format is successful because the stores are large enough to offer the specialty departments that customers desire for one-stop shopping, including natural food and organic sections, pharmacies, general merchandise, pet centers and high-quality perishables such as fresh seafood and organic produce.

Multi-department stores are significantly larger in size than combo stores.  In addition to the departments offered at a typical combo store, multi-department stores sell a wide selection of general merchandise items such as apparel, home fashion and furnishings, outdoor living, electronics, automotive products and toys.

Marketplace stores are smaller in size than multi-department stores. They offer full-service grocery, pharmacy and health and beauty care departments as well as an expanded perishable offering and general merchandise area that includes apparel, home goods and toys.

Price impact warehouse stores offer a “no-frills, low cost” warehouse format and feature everyday low prices plus promotions for a wide selection of grocery and health and beauty care items. Quality meat, dairy, baked goods and fresh produce items provide a competitive advantage. The average size of a price impact warehouse store is similar to that of a combo store.

Seamless Digital Ecosystem

Our digital ecosystem provides a fresh and seamless offering for our customers. Through investment and innovation, we continue to improve our seamless ecosystem to ensure it remains relevant. We offer a convenient shopping experience for our customers regardless of how they choose to shop with us, including Pickup, Delivery and Ship. We offer Pickup (also referred to as ClickList®) and Harris Teeter ExpressLane™ — personalized, order online, pick up at the store services — at 2,257 of our supermarkets and provide home delivery services, which allows us to offer digital solutions to 98% of our customers. We provide relevant customer-facing apps and interfaces that have the features customers want that are also reliable, easy to use and deliver a seamless customer experience across our store and digital channels.

4

Merchandising and Manufacturing

Our Brands products play an important role in our merchandising strategy and represented nearly $28 billion of our sales in 2021. Our supermarkets, on average, stock over 14,000 private label items. Our Brands products are primarily produced and sold in three “tiers.” Private Selection® is our main premium quality brand, offering customers culinary foods and ingredients that deliver amazing eating experiences. The Kroger® brand, which represents the majority of our private label items, is designed to consistently satisfy and delight customers with quality products that exceed or meet the national brand in taste and efficacy, as well as with unique and differentiated products. Big K®, Check This Out…® and Heritage Farm® are some of our value brands, designed to deliver good quality at a very affordable price. In addition to our three “tiers,” Our Brands offers customers a variety of natural and organic products with Simple Truth® and Simple Truth Organic®. Both Simple Truth and Simple Truth Organic are free from a defined list of artificial ingredients that customers have told us they do not want in their food, and the Simple Truth Organic products are USDA certified organic.

Approximately 29% of Our Brands units and 41% of the grocery category Our Brands units sold in our supermarkets are produced in our food production plants; the remaining Our Brands items are produced to our strict specifications by outside manufacturers. We perform a “make or buy” analysis on Our Brands products and decisions are based upon a comparison of market-based transfer prices versus open market purchases. As of January 29, 2022, we operated 33 food production plants. These plants consisted of 14 dairies, 9 deli or bakery plants, five grocery product plants, two beverage plants, one meat plant and two cheese plants.

Our Data

We are evolving from a traditional food retailer into a more diverse, food first business. The traffic and data generated by our retail supermarket business, including pharmacies and fuel centers, is enabling this transformation. Kroger serves over 60 million households annually and because of our market leading rewards program, 96% of customer transactions are tethered to a Kroger loyalty card. Our 20 years of investment in data science capabilities is allowing us to leverage this data to create personalized experiences and value for our customers and is also enabling our fast-growing, high operating margin alternative profits, including data analytic services and third party media revenue. Our retail media business – Kroger Precision Marketing – provides best in class media capabilities for our consumer packaged goods partners and is a key driver of our digital profitability and alternative profit.

Our revenues are predominately earned and cash is generated as consumer products are sold to customers in our stores, fuel centers and via our online platforms.  We earn income predominately by selling products at price levels that produce revenues in excess of the costs we incur to make these products available to our customers.  Such costs include procurement and distribution costs, facility occupancy and operational costs, and overhead expenses. Our fiscal year ends on the Saturday closest to January 31. All references to 2021, 2020 and 2019 are to the fiscal years ended January 29, 2022, January 30, 2021 and February 1, 2020, respectively, unless specifically indicated otherwise.

We maintain a web site (www.thekrogerco.com) that includes the Kroger Fact Book and other additional information about the Company. Kroger’s website and any reports or other information made available by Kroger through its website are not part of or incorporated by reference into this Annual Report on Form 10-K. We make available through our web site, free of charge, our annual reports on Form 10-K, our quarterly reports on Form 10-Q, our current reports on Form 8-K and our interactive data files, including amendments. These forms are available as soon as reasonably practicable after we have filed them with, or furnished them electronically to, the SEC.

5

SEGMENTS

We operate supermarkets, multi-department stores and fulfillment centers throughout the United States.  Our retail operations, which represent 97% of our consolidated sales, is our only reportable segment. We aggregate our operating divisions into one reportable segment due to the operating divisions having similar economic characteristics with similar long-term financial performance. In addition, our operating divisions offer customers similar products, have similar distribution methods, operate in similar regulatory environments, purchase the majority of the merchandise for retail sale from similar (and in many cases identical) vendors on a coordinated basis from a centralized location, serve similar types of customers, and are allocated capital from a centralized location. Our operating divisions are organized primarily on a geographical basis so that the operating division management team can be responsive to local needs of the operating division and can execute company strategic plans and initiatives throughout the locations in their operating division. This geographical separation is the primary differentiation between these retail operating divisions. The geographical basis of organization reflects how the business is managed and how our Chief Executive Officer, who acts as our chief operating decision maker, assesses performance internally. All of our operations are domestic. Revenues, profits and losses and total assets are shown in our Consolidated Financial Statements set forth in Item 8 below.

SEASONALITY

The majority of our revenues are generally not seasonal in nature. However, revenues tend to be higher during the major holidays throughout the year. Additionally, certain significant events including inclement weather systems, particularly winter storms, tend to affect our sales trends.

HUMAN CAPITAL MANAGEMENT

Our People

We want Kroger to be a place where our customers love to shop and associates love to work. This is why we create working environments where associates feel encouraged and supported to be their best selves every day. Our people are essential to our success, and we focus intentionally on attracting, developing and engaging a diverse workforce that represents the communities we serve. We strive to create a culture of opportunity and take seriously our role as a leading employer in the United States. Kroger has provided a large number of people with first jobs, new beginnings and lifelong careers. We have long been guided by our core values – Honesty, Integrity, Respect, Safety, Diversity and Inclusion.

As of January 29, 2022, Kroger employed over 420,000 full- and part-time employees. The number of associates decreased in 2021, compared to 2020, as sales normalized following the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic and we continue to achieve operational efficiencies in our business.

Attracting & Developing Our Talent

We recognize that our people are our most important asset. To deliver on our customers’ experiences, we continually improve how we attract and retain talent. In addition to competitive wages, quality benefits and a safe work environment, we offer a broad range of employment opportunities for workers of all ages and aspirations. Many supermarket roles offer opportunities to learn new skills, grow and advance careers — inside or outside our family of companies.

Associates at all levels of the Company have access to training and education programs to build their skills and prepare for the roles they want. In 2022, we expect to spend approximately $145 million on training our associates through onboarding, leadership development programs, and programs designed to upskill associates across the Company. We continue to invest in new platforms and applications to make learning more accessible to our associates.

Beyond our own programs, associates can take advantage of our tuition reimbursement benefit, which offers up to $3,500 annually — $21,000 over the course of employment — toward continuing education. These funds can be applied to education programs like certifications, associate or graduate degrees. More than 3,000 associates, 90% of whom are hourly, have taken advantage of our tuition reimbursement program in 2021. Kroger has invested more than $40 million in this program since it launched in 2018.

6

Rewarding Our Associates

As we continue to operate in a challenging labor market, we are dedicated to attracting and retaining the right talent across the organization to be able to continue delivering for our customers. We are investing in our associates by expanding our industry-leading benefits, including continuing education and tuition reimbursement, training and development, health, and wellness. During 2021, we invested more than ever before in our associates to raise our average hourly wage to $17 and our average hourly rate to over $22 with comprehensive benefits included. Over the last four years, Kroger has invested an incremental $1.2 billion in associate wages and training and our average hourly rate has increased 20%. In addition, we have committed to invest over $1.8 billion during the same time period to help address underfunding and better secure pensions for tens of thousands of associates.

Promoting Diversity, Equity & Inclusion

Diversity and inclusion have been among Kroger’s values for decades. We strive to reflect the communities we serve and foster a culture that empowers everyone to be their true self, inspires collaboration, and feeds the human spirit. We have taken a very thoughtful and purposeful approach to enact meaningful change and develop what we believe are the right actions to achieve true and lasting equality. Our Framework for Action: Diversity, Equity & Inclusion plan reflects our desire to redefine, deepen, and advance our commitment, mobilizing our people, passion, scale and resources. The following summarizes our framework: Create a More Inclusive Culture; Develop Diverse Talent; Advance Diverse Partnerships; Advance Equitable Communities; and Deeply Listen and Report Progress.

Creating a Safe Environment

Our associates’ safety is a top priority and it is one of our core values. Since the beginning of the pandemic, our most urgent priority has been to safeguard our associates and customers. We’ve implemented dozens of new safety and cleanliness processes and procedures in our stores and other facilities. Beyond the pandemic, we prioritize providing the right safety training and equipment, safe working conditions and resources to maintain and improve associates’ well-being. Through our strategy to set clear expectations, routine monitoring, and regular communication and engagement, we reduce the number of injuries and accidents that happen in our workplace.

We track health and safety metrics centrally for an enterprise-wide view of issues, trends and opportunities and monitor associate injury performance including total injuries, Occupational Safety and Health Administration (“OSHA”) injury rates, and lost-time injuries, as well as customer injury metrics like slip-and-fall injuries. We also track the completion of required training for associates and we regularly share these metrics with leaders and relevant team members to inform management decisions.

Supporting Labor Relations

A majority of our employees are covered by collective bargaining agreements negotiated with local unions affiliated with one of several different international unions. There are approximately 310 such agreements, usually with terms of three to five years. Wages, health care and pensions are included in all of these collective bargaining agreements that cover approximately 65% of our associates. Our objective is to negotiate contracts that balance competitive wage increases and affordable healthcare for associates with keeping groceries affordable for the communities we serve. Our obligation is to do this in a way that maintains a financially sustainable business.

MANAGING CLIMATE IMPACTS

Managing climate change impacts is an important part of Thriving Together, Kroger’s Environmental, Social & Governance (“ESG”) strategy, and has been a focus for our business for many years. With a large portfolio of supermarkets, distribution warehouses and food production plants, as well as a complex supply chain, we recognize Kroger’s impact on our climate. We continue to explore opportunities and take steps to reduce the impacts of our operations on the environment and to reduce the potential risk of a changing climate on our operations. This includes increasing our usage of renewable energy, investments in new technologies and enhancing our operational efficiency. The key elements of our ESG strategy are included below.

7

Governance

Climate impacts are managed by leadership with input from several departments across the business. The Public Responsibilities Committee of the Board of Directors oversees our responsibilities as a corporate citizen and the Company’s practices related to environmental sustainability, including climate impacts, along with other environmental and social topics of material importance. Kroger discloses detailed energy and emissions data, as well as our approach to managing climate effects, in our annual ESG Report, which can be found on our sustainability web site at www.thekrogerco.com/esgreport. The information in our ESG report is not part of or incorporated by reference into this Annual Report on Form 10-K.

Risk assessment

To help identify and manage climate-related risks to our business, we conducted both qualitative and quantitative risk assessments that have assessed the effect and vulnerability of climate risk on our operations. We have also assessed the likelihood and extent to which different climate risks, such as extreme precipitation, drought and heat stress, would affect different types of facilities and geographies. As a result of our risk assessments, we do not currently anticipate the modeled physical risks to adversely affect our financial condition, results of operations or cash flows for the foreseeable future. We plan to continue these qualitative and quantitative risk assessments moving forward.

Kroger also acknowledges that current and emerging climate-related legislation could affect our business. As a result of forthcoming state and federal requirements regarding the phase down of hydrofluorocarbon (HFC) refrigerants, we anticipate steadily replacing our refrigerant infrastructure to reach required levels, which could incur significant costs to the business. If legislation required an accelerated timeline regarding the phase down of HFC refrigerants, we could incur higher costs. This legislation will affect all retailers using refrigerants in their operations.

Climate adaptation

To help prepare for and manage a variety of risk scenarios, including natural disasters and business disruptions to our supply chain, we maintain more than 200 business continuity plans. We have installed technologies and processes to ensure our supermarkets, food production plants, fulfillment centers and supply chain can respond quickly and remain operational. We also monitor energy availability and costs to help anticipate how changing climate patterns, like increasing temperatures, could affect our energy-sourcing costs and activities. Our teams also monitor transition risks due to climate change, including the effect possible new legislation may have on our business.

Climate mitigation

For many years, Kroger has implemented emission reduction projects, including energy efficiency improvements, refrigerant leak detection and mitigation measures, renewable energy installations and procurement and fleet efficiencies. In 2020, we set a new goal to reduce absolute greenhouse gas emissions from our operations (scope 1 and 2 emissions) by 30% by 2030, against a 2018 baseline. The goal was developed using climate science and is aligned with the Paris Agreement, specifically supporting a well-below 2°C climate scenario according to the absolute contraction method. Kroger anticipates resetting our current greenhouse gas reduction target to meet with the requirements of the Science Based Target Initiative, which would include aligning with the 1.5°C scenario and setting a new Scope 3 target.

Additional discussion about our approach to managing climate effects is included in Kroger’s annual ESG report.

8

INFORMATION ABOUT OUR EXECUTIVE OFFICERS

The following is a list of the names and ages of the executive officers and the positions held by each such person. Except as otherwise noted, each person has held office for at least five years.  Each officer will hold office at the discretion of the Board for the ensuing year until removed or replaced.

Name

    

Age

    

Recent Employment History

Mary E. Adcock

46 

Ms. Adcock was elected Senior Vice President effective May 1, 2019 and is responsible for retail operations as well as the oversight of all Kroger retail divisions. From June 2016 to April 2019, she served as Group Vice President of Retail Operations. Prior to that, Ms. Adcock held leadership roles in Kroger’s Columbus Division, including Vice President of Operations and Vice President of Merchandising. Prior to that, Ms. Adcock served as Vice President of Natural Foods Merchandising and as Vice President of Deli/Bakery Manufacturing and held several leadership positions in the manufacturing department, including human resources manager, general manager and division operations manager. Ms. Adcock joined Kroger in 1999 as human resources assistant manager at the Country Oven Bakery in Bowling Green, Kentucky.

Stuart W. Aitken

50 

Mr. Aitken was named Senior Vice President and Chief Merchant and Marketing Officer in August 2020. He was elected Senior Vice President in February 2019 and served as Group Vice President from June 2015 to February 2019. He is responsible for sales, pricing, promotional and category planning for fresh foods, center store and general merchandise categories, as well as analytics & execution, e-commerce and Digital Merchandising, and Our Brands. Prior to joining Kroger, he served as the chief executive officer of dunnhumby USA, LLC. Mr. Aitken has over 15 years of marketing, academic and technical experience across a variety of industries, and held various leadership roles with other companies, including Michaels Stores and Safeway, Inc.

Gabriel Arreaga

47

Mr. Arreaga was elected Senior Vice President of Supply Chain in December 2020. He is responsible for the company’s industry-leading Supply Chain organization, Logistics, Inventory & Replenishment, Manufacturing, and Fulfillment Centers. Prior to Kroger, Mr. Arreaga served as Senior Vice President of Supply Chains for Mondelez, where he was responsible for all operations and functions from field to consumer, internal and external factories, fulfillment centers, direct to store branches, Logistics and product development. He was also Global Vice President of Operations for Stanley Black and Decker and held numerous leadership roles at Unilever including Vice President of Food and Beverage Operations.

Yael Cosset

48 

Mr. Cosset was elected Senior Vice President and Chief Information Officer in May 2019 and is responsible for leading Kroger’s digital strategy, focused on building Kroger’s presence in the marketplace in digital channels, personalization and e-commerce. In August 2020, he also assumed responsibility for Kroger’s alternative profit businesses, including Kroger’s data analytics subsidiary, 84.51 ͦ LLC and Kroger Personal Finance. Prior to that, Mr. Cosset served as Group Vice President and Chief Digital Officer, and also as Chief Commercial Officer and Chief Information Officer of 84.51° LLC. Prior to joining Kroger, Mr. Cosset served in several leadership roles at dunnhumby USA, LLC, including Executive Vice President of Consumer Markets and Global Chief Information Officer.

9

Carin L. Fike

53

Ms. Fike was elected Vice President and Treasurer effective April 2017. Prior to that, she served as Assistant Treasurer and also as Director of Investor Relations. Ms. Fike began her career with Kroger in 1999 as a manager in the Financial Reporting department after working with PricewaterhouseCoopers in various roles, including audit manager.

Todd A. Foley

52 

Mr. Foley was named Group Vice President, Corporate Controller on October 1, 2021. From April 2017 to September 2021, he served as Vice President and Corporate Controller. Before that, he held several leadership roles, including Vice President and Treasurer, Assistant Corporate Controller, and Controller of Kroger’s Cincinnati/Dayton division. Mr. Foley began his career with Kroger in 2001 as an audit manager in the Internal Audit Department after working for PricewaterhouseCoopers in various roles, including senior audit manager.

Valerie L. Jabbar

53

Ms. Jabbar was elected Senior Vice President effective August 19, 2021 and is responsible for the oversight of several Kroger retail divisions. From July 2020 to August 2021, she served as Group Vice President of Center Store Merchandising, and from September 2018 to June 2020, as Group Vice President of Merchandising. Prior to that, she served as President of the Ralphs Division from July 2016 to August 2018. Before that, Ms. Jabbar served as Vice President of Merchandising for the Ralphs Division and as Vice President of Merchandising for the Mid-Atlantic Division. She also held several leadership roles, including assistant store director, category manager, Drug/GM coordinator, G.O. Seasonal manager, assistant director of Drug/GM and director of Drug GM, and district manager in the Fry’s Division. She joined the Company in 1987 as a clerk in the Fry’s Division.

Kenneth C. Kimball

56 

Mr. Kimball was elected Senior Vice President in March 2022 and is responsible for the oversight of several Kroger retail divisions. From April 2016 to March 2022, he served as President of the Smith’s Division. Prior to that, he held several leadership roles with the Ralphs Division, including Vice President of Operations and Vice President of Merchandising. Prior to that, he held leadership roles, including store manager, district manager, and director in the Smith’s Division as well as Senior Vice President of Sales and Merchandising and Group Vice President of Retail Operations. Mr. Kimball joined the Company in 1984 as a clerk in the Smith’s Division.

Timothy A. Massa

55 

Mr. Massa was elected Senior Vice President of Human Resources and Labor Relations in June 2018. Prior to that, he served as Group Vice President of Human Resources and Labor Relations from June 2014 to June 2018. Mr. Massa joined Kroger in October 2010 as Vice President, Corporate Human Resources and Talent Development. Prior to joining Kroger, he served in various Human Resources leadership roles for 21 years at Procter & Gamble, most recently serving as Global Human Resources Director of Customer Business Development.

10

W. Rodney McMullen

61 

Mr. McMullen was elected Chairman of the Board effective January 1, 2015, and Chief Executive Officer effective January 1, 2014. Prior to that, he served as President and Chief Operating Officer from August 2009 to December 2013. Prior to that he held numerous leadership roles, including Vice Chairman, Executive Vice President of Strategy, Planning and Finance, Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer, Senior Vice President, Group Vice President and Chief Financial Officer, Vice President, Control and Financial Services, and Vice President, Planning and Capital Management. Mr. McMullen joined Kroger in 1978 as a part-time stock clerk.

Gary Millerchip

50 

Mr. Millerchip was elected Senior Vice President and Chief Financial Officer effective April 2019. He joined Kroger in 2008, serving as Chief Executive Officer for Kroger Personal Finance. Before coming to Kroger, Mr. Millerchip was responsible for the Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) Personal Credit Card business in the United Kingdom. He joined RBS in 1987 and held leadership positions in Sales & Marketing, Finance, Change Management, Retail Banking Distribution Strategy and Branch Operations during his time there.

Christine S. Wheatley

51 

Ms. Wheatley was elected Group Vice President, Secretary and General Counsel in May 2014. She joined Kroger in February 2008 as Corporate Counsel, and thereafter served as Senior Attorney, Senior Counsel, and Vice President. Before joining Kroger, Ms. Wheatley was engaged in the private practice of law for 11 years, most recently as a partner at Porter Wright Morris & Arthur in Cincinnati.

COMPETITIVE ENVIRONMENT

For the disclosure related to our competitive environment, see Item 1A under the heading “Competitive Environment.”

ITEM 1A.

RISK FACTORS.

There are risks and uncertainties that can affect our business. The significant risk factors are discussed below. The following information should be read together with “Management’s Discussion and Analysis of Financial Condition and Results of Operations,” which includes forward-looking statements and factors that could cause us not to realize our goals or meet our expectations.

COMPETITIVE ENVIRONMENT

The operating environment for the food retailing industry continues to be characterized by the fragmentation of local, regional, and national retailers, including both retail and digital formats, market consolidation, intense competition and entry of non-traditional competitors. Customer behavior shifted quickly and considerably during the pandemic, including a shift from food away from home to food at home. We see three major trends shaping the industry post-pandemic: e-commerce, cooking at home and prepared foods to go. If we do not appropriately or accurately anticipate customer preferences or fail to quickly adapt to these changing preferences, or if trends shift more quickly to food away from home, our sales and profitability could be adversely affected. If we fail to meet the evolving needs of our customers, our ability to compete and our financial condition, results of operations or cash flows could be adversely affected.

11

We are continuing to enhance the customer connection with investments in our four competitive moats – Seamless, Personalization, Fresh, and Our Brands. Each of these are strategic differentiators and each one is designed to better serve our customers and to generate customer loyalty and sustainable growth momentum. We believe our plans to continue to improve these four strategic differentiators will enable us to meet the wide-ranging needs and expectations of our customers. If we are unable to continue to enhance the foregoing key elements of our connection with customers, or they fail to strengthen customer loyalty, our ability to compete and our financial condition, results of operations or cash flows could be adversely affected. Our ecosystem monetizes the traffic and data insights generated by our retail supermarket business to create fast-growing, asset-light and margin rich revenue streams. We may be unsuccessful in implementing our alternative profit strategy, which could adversely affect our business growth and our financial condition, results of operations or cash flows. The nature and extent to which our competitors respond to the evolving and competitive industry by developing and implementing their competitive strategies could adversely affect our profitability.

In addition, evolving customer preferences and the advancement of online, delivery, ship to home, and mobile channels in our industry increase the competitive environment. We must anticipate and meet these evolving customer preferences and continue to implement technology, software and processes to be able to conveniently and cost-effectively fulfill customer orders. Providing flexible fulfillment options and implementing new technology is complex and may not meet customer preferences. If we are not successful in reducing or offsetting the cost of fulfilling orders outside of our traditional in-store channel with efficiencies, cost-savings, expense reductions, or alternative revenues, our financial condition, results of operations or cash flows could be adversely affected.

In addition, if we do not successfully develop and maintain a relevant digital experience for our customers, our business, financial condition, results of operations or cash flows could be adversely affected. Digital retailing is rapidly evolving, and we must keep pace with new developments by our competitors as well as the evolving needs and preferences of our customers. Our digital business has accelerated significantly during the COVID-19 pandemic including Pickup, Delivery and Ship. We must compete by offering a convenient shopping experience for our customers regardless of how they choose to shop with us, and by investing in, providing and maintaining relevant customer-facing apps and interfaces that have the features customers want that are also reliable and easy to use. The future success of the digital business will also depend on the efficiency and cost effectiveness of fulfilling orders across our modalities, whether in store, in pickup-only locations, or through customer fulfillment centers powered by Ocado Group plc.

PRODUCT SAFETY

Customers count on Kroger to provide them with safe food and drugs and other merchandise. Concerns regarding the safety of the products that we sell could cause shoppers to avoid purchasing certain products from us, or to seek alternative sources of supply even if the basis for the concern is outside of our control. Any lost confidence on the part of our customers would be difficult and costly to reestablish. We could be adversely affected by personal injury or product liability claims, product recalls, or other health and safety issues, which occur from time to time. If we sell products that cause illness or injury to customers, resulting from product contamination or spoilage, the presence of certain substances, or damage caused in handling, storage or transportation, we could be exposed to claims or litigation. Any issue regarding the safety of items, whether Our Brands items manufactured by the Company or for the Company or CPG products we sell, regardless of the cause, could have a substantial and adverse effect on our reputation, financial condition, results of operations or cash flows.

EMPLOYEE MATTERS

A majority of our associates are covered by collective bargaining agreements with unions, and our relationship with those unions, including a prolonged work stoppage affecting a substantial number of locations, could have a material adverse effect on our financial condition, results of operations or cash flows. We are a party to approximately 310 collective bargaining agreements. Upon the expiration of our collective bargaining agreements, work stoppages by the affected workers could occur (and have occurred in the past) if we are unable to negotiate new contracts with labor unions. In addition, changes to national labor policy could affect labor relations with our associates and relationships with unions. Further, if we are unable to control health care, pension and wage costs, or if we have insufficient operational flexibility under our collective bargaining agreements, we may experience increased operating costs and an adverse effect on our financial condition, results of operations or cash flows.

12

We have committed to paying fair wages and providing the benefits that were collectively bargained with the United Food and Commercial Workers (“UFCW”) and other labor unions representing associates. Our ability to control labor and benefit costs is subject to numerous internal and external factors, including regulatory changes, wage rates, and healthcare and other insurance costs. Changes to wage regulations, including further increases in the minimum wage and extra pay ordinances enacted by local governments, could have an impact on our future financial condition, results of operations or cash flows. Our ability to meet our labor needs, while controlling wages and other costs, is subject to numerous external factors, including the available qualified workforce in each area where we are located, unemployment levels within those areas, wage rates, and changes in employment and labor laws.

Our continued success depends on the ongoing contributions of our associates, including members of our senior management and other key personnel. We must recruit, hire, develop and retain qualified associates with an increasingly large range of skills to meet the needs of our evolving and complex business. We compete with other retail and non-retail businesses for these associates and invest significant resources in training and motivating them. Competition among potential employers has resulted, and may in the future result, in increased associate costs and has from time to time affected our ability to recruit and retain associates. There is no assurance that we will be able to attract or retain sufficient highly qualified associates in the future, which could have a material adverse effect on our business, financial condition, results of operations or cash flows.

DATA AND TECHNOLOGY

Our business is increasingly dependent on information technology systems that are complex and vital to continuing operations, resulting in an expansion of our technological presence and corresponding risk exposure. If we were to experience difficulties maintaining or operating existing systems or implementing new systems, we could incur significant losses due to disruptions in our operations.

Through our sales and marketing activities, we collect and store some personal information that our customers provide to us. We also gather and retain information about our associates in the normal course of business. Under certain circumstances, we may share information with vendors that assist us in conducting our business, as required by law, or otherwise in accordance with our privacy policy.

Our technology systems are vulnerable to disruption from circumstances beyond our control, and we regularly defend against and respond to data security incidents. Cyber-attackers have targeted and accessed, and may in the future again attempt to target and access, information stored in our or our vendors’ systems in order to misappropriate confidential customer or business information. Due to the political uncertainty involving Russia and Ukraine, there is a possibility that the escalation of tensions could result in cyberattacks that could either directly or indirectly affect our operations. Although we have implemented procedures to protect our information, and require our vendors to do the same, we cannot be certain that our security systems will successfully defend against, or be able to effectively respond to, rapidly evolving, increasingly sophisticated cyber-attacks as they become more difficult to detect and defend against. Further, a Kroger associate, a contractor or other third party with whom we do business may in the future circumvent our security measures in order to obtain information or may inadvertently cause a breach involving information. In addition, hardware, software or applications we may use may have inherent defects, vulnerabilities, or could be inadvertently or intentionally applied or used in a way that could compromise our information security.

13

Our cybersecurity program, continued investment in our information technology systems, and our processes to evaluate and select vendors with reasonable information security controls may not effectively insulate us from potential attacks, data breaches or disruptions to our business operations, which could result in a loss of customers or business information, negative publicity, damage to our reputation, and exposure to claims from customers, financial institutions, regulatory authorities, payment card associations, associates and other persons. Any such events could have an adverse effect on our business, financial condition, results of operations or cash flows and may not be covered by our insurance. In addition, compliance with privacy and information security laws and standards may result in significant expense due to increased investment in technology and the development of new operational processes and may require us to devote significant management resources to address these issues. The costs of attempting to protect against the foregoing risks and the costs of responding to cyber-attacks are significant. Following a cyber-attack, our and/or our vendors’ remediation efforts may not be successful, and a cyber-attack could result in interruptions, delays or cessation of service, and loss of existing or potential customers. In addition, breaches of our and/or our vendors’ security measures and the unauthorized dissemination of sensitive personal information or confidential information about us or our customers could expose our customers’ private information and our customers to the risk of financial or medical identity theft, or expose us or other third parties to a risk of loss or misuse of this information, and result in investigations, regulatory enforcement actions, material fines and penalties, loss of customers and business relationships, litigation or other actions which could have a material adverse effect on our brands, reputation, business, financial condition, results of operations or cash flows.

Data governance failures can adversely affect our reputation and business. Our business depends on our customers’ willingness to entrust us with their personal information. Events that adversely affect that trust, including inadequate disclosure to our customers of our uses of their information, failures to honor new and evolving data privacy rights, failing to keep our information technology systems and our customers’ sensitive information secure from significant attack, theft, damage, loss or unauthorized disclosure or access, whether as a result of our action or inaction (including human error) or that of our business associates, vendors or other third parties, could adversely affect our brand and reputation and operating results and also could expose and/or has exposed us to mandatory disclosure to the media, litigation (including class action litigation), governmental investigations and enforcement proceedings, material fines, penalties and/or remediation costs, and compensatory, special, punitive and statutory damages, consent orders, and/or injunctive relief, any of which could adversely affect our businesses, financial condition, results of operations or cash flows. Large scale data breaches at other entities, including supply chain security vulnerabilities, increase the challenge we and our vendors face in maintaining the security of our information technology systems and proprietary information and of our customers’ information. There can be no assurance that such failures will not occur, or if any do occur, that we will detect them or that they can be sufficiently remediated.

The use of data by our business and our business associates is highly regulated. Privacy and information-security laws and regulations change, and compliance with them may result in cost increases due to, among other things, systems changes and the development of new processes. If we, our third party service providers, or those with whom we share information fail to comply with laws and regulations, or self-regulatory regimes, that apply to all or parts of our business, such as section 5 of the FTC Act, the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA), the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), or applicable international laws such as the EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), our reputation could be damaged, possibly resulting in lost business, and we could be subjected to additional legal risk or financial losses as a result of non-compliance.

14

PAYMENT SYSTEMS

We accept payments using a variety of methods, including cash and checks, select credit and debit cards, and Kroger Pay, a mobile payment solution. As we offer new payment options to our customers, we may be subject to additional rules, regulations, compliance requirements, and higher fraud losses. For certain payment methods, we pay interchange and other related acceptance fees, along with additional transaction processing fees. We rely on third parties to provide payment transaction processing services for credit and debit cards. It could disrupt our business if these companies become unwilling or unable to provide these services to us, including due to short term disruption of service. We are also subject to evolving payment card association and network operating rules, including data security rules, certification requirements and rules governing electronic funds transfers. For example, we are subject to Payment Card Industry Data Security Standards (“PCI DSS”), which contain compliance guidelines and standards with regard to our security surrounding the physical and electronic storage, processing and transmission of individual cardholder data. If our payment card terminals or internal systems are breached or compromised, we may be liable for card re-issuance costs and other costs, subject to fines and higher transaction fees, and lose our ability to accept card payments from our members, or if our third-party service providers’ systems are breached or compromised, our business, financial condition, results of operations or cash flows could be adversely affected.

INDEBTEDNESS

Our indebtedness could reduce our ability to obtain additional financing for working capital, mergers and acquisitions or other purposes and could make us vulnerable to future economic downturns as well as competitive pressures. If debt markets do not permit us to refinance certain maturing debt, we may be required to dedicate a substantial portion of our cash flow from operations to payments on our indebtedness. Changes in our credit ratings, or in the interest rate environment, could have an adverse effect on our financing costs and structure.

LEGAL PROCEEDINGS AND INSURANCE

From time to time, we are a party to legal proceedings, including matters involving personnel and employment issues, personal injury, contract disputes, regulatory claims and other proceedings. Other legal proceedings purport to be brought as class actions on behalf of similarly situated parties. Some of these proceedings could result in a substantial loss to Kroger. We estimate our exposure to these legal proceedings and establish accruals for the estimated liabilities, where it is reasonably possible to estimate and where an adverse outcome is probable. Assessing and predicting the outcome of these matters involves substantial uncertainties. Adverse outcomes in these legal proceedings, or changes in our evaluations or predictions about the proceedings, could have an adverse effect on our financial condition, results of operations or cash flows. Please also refer to the “Litigation” section in Note 12 to the Consolidated Financial Statements.

We use a combination of insurance and self-insurance to provide for potential liability for workers’ compensation, automobile and general liability, property, director and officers’ liability, cyber risk exposure and associate health care benefits. Any actuarial projection of losses is subject to a high degree of variability. With respect to insured matters, we are liable for retention amounts that vary by the nature of the claim, and some losses may not be covered by insurance. Changes in legal claims, trends and interpretations, variability in inflation rates, changes in the nature and method of claims settlement, benefit level changes due to changes in applicable laws, insolvency of insurance carriers, and changes in discount rates could all affect our financial condition, results of operations or cash flows.

15

MULTI-EMPLOYER PENSION OBLIGATIONS

As discussed in more detail below in “Management’s Discussion and Analysis of Financial Condition and Results of Operations-Critical Accounting Policies-Multi-Employer Pension Plans,” Kroger contributes to several multi-employer pension plans based on obligations arising under collective bargaining agreements with unions representing associates covered by those agreements. We believe the present value of actuarially accrued liabilities in most of these multi-employer plans exceeds the value of the assets held in trust to pay benefits, and we expect that Kroger’s contributions to most of these funds will increase over the next few years. A significant increase to those funding requirements could adversely affect our financial condition, results of operations or cash flows. Despite the fact that the pension obligations of these funds are not the liability or responsibility of the Company, except as noted below, there is a risk that the agencies that rate our outstanding debt instruments could view the underfunded nature of these plans unfavorably, or adjust their current views unfavorably, when determining their ratings on our debt securities. Any downgrading of our debt ratings likely would adversely affect our cost of borrowing and access to capital.

We also currently bear the investment risk of two multi-employer pension plans in which we participate. In addition, we have been designated as the named fiduciary of these funds with sole investment authority of the assets of these funds. If investment results fail to meet our expectations, we could be required to make additional contributions to fund a portion of or the entire shortfall, which could have an adverse effect on our business, financial condition, results of operations or cash flows.

INTEGRATION OF NEW BUSINESS AND STRATEGIC ALLIANCES

We enter into mergers, acquisitions and strategic alliances with expected benefits including, among other things, operating efficiencies, procurement savings, innovation, sharing of best practices and increased share that may allow for future growth. Achieving the anticipated or desired benefits may be subject to a number of significant challenges and uncertainties, including, without limitation, whether unique corporate cultures will work collaboratively in an efficient and effective manner, the coordination of geographically separate organizations, the possibility of imprecise assumptions underlying expectations regarding potential synergies, capital requirements, and the integration process, unforeseen expenses and delays, and competitive factors in the marketplace. We could also encounter unforeseen transaction and integration-related costs or other circumstances such as unforeseen liabilities or other issues. Many of these potential circumstances are outside of our control and any of them could result in increased costs, decreased revenue, decreased synergies and the diversion of management time and attention. If we are unable to achieve our objectives within the anticipated time frame, or at all, the expected benefits may not be realized fully or at all, or may take longer to realize than expected, which could have an adverse effect on our business, financial condition, results of operations or cash flows.

FUEL

We sell a significant amount of fuel in our 1,613 fuel centers, which could face increased regulation, including due to climate change or other environmental concerns, and demand could be affected by concerns about the effect of emissions on the environment as well as retail price increases. We are unable to predict future regulations, environmental effects, political unrest, acts of war or terrorism, disruptions to the economy, including but not limited to the COVID-19 pandemic, the recent invasion of Ukraine by Russia, and other matters that affect the cost and availability of fuel, and how our customers will react to such factors, which could adversely affect our financial condition, results of operations or cash flows.

16

ECONOMIC CONDITIONS

Our operating results could be materially impacted by changes in overall economic conditions and other economic factors that impact consumer confidence and spending, including discretionary spending. Future economic conditions affecting disposable consumer income such as employment levels, business conditions, overall economic slowdown or recession, changes in housing market conditions, changes in government benefits such as SNAP/EBT or child care credits, the availability of credit, interest rates, inflation or deflation, tax rates and other matters could reduce consumer spending. Inflation could materially affect our operating results through increases to our cost of goods, supply chain costs and labor costs. In addition, the economic factors listed above, or any other economic factors or circumstances resulting in higher transportation, labor, insurance or healthcare costs or commodity prices, and other economic factors can increase our merchandise costs and operating, general and administrative expenses and otherwise adversely affect our financial condition, results of operations or cash flows. Increased fuel prices also have an effect on consumer spending and on our costs of producing and procuring products that we sell. A deterioration in overall economic conditions, the likelihood of which is made more uncertain by the recent increases in the inflation rate, could adversely affect our business in many ways, including slowing sales growth, reducing overall sales and reducing gross margins. We are unable to predict how the global economy and financial markets will perform. If the global economy and financial markets do not perform as we expect, it could adversely affect our financial condition, results of operations or cash flows.

COVID-19

The global COVID-19 pandemic continues to affect our business. Two full years into the pandemic, many factors and uncertainties remain, including:

the continuing concerns about the health of, and the effect on our associates, and our ability to meet staffing needs in our stores, distribution facilities, corporate offices and other critical functions;

the ultimate duration of the pandemic, including whether there will be additional spikes in the number of COVID-19 cases, future variants, mutations or related strains of the virus;

the duration, degree and effectiveness of governmental measures, such as access to unemployment compensation, stimulus payments, and other fiscal policy changes;

the timing and availability of, and prevalence of access to and utilization of, effective medical treatments for COVID-19;

the effectiveness of vaccines against variants and efficacy of vaccines over time, vaccine availability for young children, global vaccine access, and the percentage of fully vaccinated individuals in the US and the corresponding effect on the duration of the pandemic;

whether and when the global pandemic will become endemic;

evolving macroeconomic factors, including general economic uncertainty, unemployment rates, and recessionary pressures;

the impact of the pandemic on economic activity and the pace and extent of recovery when the pandemic subsides or becomes endemic, which may vary materially over time and among the different regions and markets we serve;

the extent and duration of the effect on consumer confidence, economic well-being, spending, customer demand, buying patterns and shopping behaviors, including spend on discretionary categories, which often include higher margin products, and increased utilization of online sales channels, both during and after the pandemic; and

the long-term impact of the pandemic on our business, including consumer behaviors.

17

In addition, we cannot predict with certainty the extent of the effect that COVID-19 will have on our customers, suppliers, vendors, and other business partners, and each of their financial conditions; however, any adverse effect on these parties could materially and adversely impact us. To the extent that COVID-19 continues to affect the U.S. and global economy and our business, it may also heighten other risks described in this section, including but not limited to those related to consumer behavior and expectations, competition, implementation of strategic initiatives, cybersecurity threats, payment-related risks, supply chain disruptions, labor availability and cost, litigation and operational risk as a result of regulatory requirements.

LEGAL AND GOVERNMENT REGULATION

We are subject to various laws, regulations, and administrative practices that affect our business, including laws and regulations involving antitrust and competition, privacy, data protection, environmental, healthcare, anti-bribery, anti-corruption, tax, accounting, and financial reporting or other matters. These and other rapidly changing laws, regulations, policies and related interpretations, as well as increased enforcement actions by various governmental and regulatory agencies, create challenges for the Company, may alter the environment in which we do business and may increase the ongoing costs of compliance, which could adversely affect our financial condition, results of operations and cash flows. If we are unable to continue to meet these challenges and comply with all laws, regulations, policies and related interpretations, it could negatively affect our reputation and our business results. Additionally, we are currently, and in the future may be, subject to a number of inquiries, investigations, claims, proceeding, and requests for information from governmental agencies or private parties, the adverse outcomes of which could harm our business. Failure to successfully manage these new or pending regulatory and legal matters and resolve such matters without significant liability or damage to our reputation may adversely affect our financial condition, results of operations and cash flows. Furthermore, if new or pending legal or regulatory matters result in fines or costs in excess of the amounts accrued to date, that may also materially affect our financial condition, results of operations or cash flows.

In addition, increasing governmental and societal attention to environmental, social, and governance (ESG) matters, including expanding voluntary reporting, diligence, and disclosure on topics such as climate change, waste production, water usage, human capital, labor, and risk oversight, could expand the nature, scope, and complexity of matters that we are required to control, assess, and report and could negatively affect the Company’s reputation.

Additionally, we must comply with numerous provisions regulating, among other things, health and sanitation standards, food labeling and safety, equal employment opportunity, minimum wages, licensing for the sale of food, drugs, and alcoholic beverages, and new provisions relating to the COVID-19 pandemic. We cannot predict future laws, regulations, interpretations, administrative orders, or applications, or the effect they will have on our operations. They could, however, significantly increase the cost of doing business. They also could require the reformulation of some of the products that we sell (or manufacture for sale to third parties) to meet new standards. We also could be required to recall or discontinue the sale of products that cannot be reformulated. These changes could result in additional record keeping, expanded documentation of the properties of certain products, expanded or different labeling, or scientific substantiation. Any or all of these requirements could have an adverse effect on our financial condition, results of operations or cash flows.

WEATHER, NATURAL DISASTERS AND OTHER EVENTS

A large number of our stores, distribution facilities and fulfillment centers are geographically located in areas that are susceptible to hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, droughts, ice and snow storms and earthquakes. Weather conditions and natural disasters have, and may again in the future, disrupt our operations at one or more of our facilities, interrupt the delivery of products to our stores, substantially increase the cost of products, including supplies and materials and substantially increase the cost of energy needed to operate our facilities or deliver products to our facilities. Moreover, the effects of climate change, including those associated with extreme weather events, may affect our ability to procure needed commodities at costs and in quantities that are optimal for us or at all. Adverse weather, natural disasters, geopolitical and catastrophic events, such as war, civil unrest, acts of terrorism or other acts of violence, including active shooter situations (which have occurred in the past at our locations), or pandemics, such as the spread of COVID-19, or other future pandemics and other matters that could reduce consumer spending, could materially affect our financial condition, results of operations or cash flows.

18

CLIMATE IMPACT

The long-term effects of global climate change present both physical risks, such as extreme weather conditions or rising sea levels, and transition risks, such as regulatory or technology changes, which are expected to be widespread and unpredictable. These changes could over time affect, for example, the availability and cost of products, commodities and energy including utilities, which in turn may impact our ability to procure goods or services required for the operation of our business at the quantities and levels we require. In addition, many of our operations and facilities are in locations that may be affected by the physical risks of climate change, and we face the risk of losses incurred as a result of physical damage to stores, distribution or fulfillment centers, loss or spoilage of inventory and business interruption caused by such events. We also use natural gas, diesel fuel, gasoline and electricity in our operations, all of which could face increased regulation and cost increases as a result of climate change or other environmental concerns. Transitioning to alternative energy sources, such as renewable electricity or electric vehicles, could incur higher costs. Regulations limiting greenhouse gas emissions and energy inputs will also increase in coming years, which may increase our costs associated with compliance, tracking, reporting, and sourcing. These events and their impacts could otherwise disrupt and adversely affect our operations and could have an adverse effect on our financial condition, results of operations or cash flows.

SUPPLY CHAIN

Disruption in our global supply chain could negatively affect our business. The products we sell are sourced from a wide variety of domestic and international vendors, and any future disruption in our supply chain or inability to find qualified vendors and access products that meet requisite quality and safety standards in a timely and efficient manner could adversely affect our business. The loss or disruption of such supply arrangements for any reason, labor disputes, loss or impairment of key manufacturing sites, acts of war or terrorism, disruptive global political events, for example, the recent invasion of Ukraine by Russia, quality control issues, a supplier’s financial distress, natural disasters or health crises, including the COVID-19 pandemic, regulatory actions or ethical sourcing issues, trade sanctions or other external factors over which we have no control, could interrupt product supply and, if not effectively managed and remedied, have an adverse effect on our business, financial condition, results of operations or cash flows.

ITEM 1B.

UNRESOLVED STAFF COMMENTS.

None.

ITEM 2.

PROPERTIES.

As of January 29, 2022, we operated approximately 2,800 owned or leased supermarkets, distribution warehouses and food production plants through divisions, subsidiaries or affiliates. These facilities are located throughout the United States. We generally own store equipment, fixtures and leasehold improvements, as well as processing and food production equipment. The total cost of our owned assets and finance leases at January 29, 2022, was $49.9 billion while the accumulated depreciation was $26.1 billion.

We lease certain store real estate, warehouses, distribution centers, office space and equipment. We operate in leased facilities in approximately half of our store locations. Lease terms generally range from 10 to 20 years with options to renew for varying terms at our sole discretion. Certain leases also include options to purchase the leased property. Leases with an initial term of 12 months or less are not recorded on the balance sheet. Certain leases include escalation clauses or payment of executory costs such as property taxes, utilities or insurance and maintenance. Rent expense for leases with escalation clauses or other lease concessions are accounted for on a straight-line basis over the lease term. Our lease agreements do not contain any material residual value guarantees or material restrictive covenants. Certain properties or portions thereof are subleased to others for periods generally ranging from one to 20 years. For additional information on lease obligations, see Note 9 to the Consolidated Financial Statements.

ITEM 3.

LEGAL PROCEEDINGS.

Incorporated by reference herein is information regarding certain legal proceedings in which we are involved as set forth under “Litigation” contained in Note 12 – “Commitments and Contingencies” in the notes to the Consolidated Financial Statements in Item 8 of Part II of this Annual Report.

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ITEM 4.

MINE SAFETY DISCLOSURES.

Not applicable.

PART II

ITEM 5.

MARKET FOR REGISTRANT’S COMMON EQUITY, RELATED STOCKHOLDER MATTERS AND ISSUER PURCHASES OF EQUITY SECURITIES.

Our common stock is listed on the New York Stock Exchange under the symbol “KR.” As of March 23, 2022, there were 25,466 shareholders of record.

During 2021, we paid two quarterly cash dividends of $0.18 per share and two quarterly cash dividends of $0.21 per share. During 2020, we paid two quarterly cash dividends of $0.16 per share and two quarterly cash dividends of $0.18 per share. On March 1, 2022, we paid a quarterly cash dividend of $0.21 per share. On March 10, 2022, we announced that our Board of Directors declared a quarterly cash dividend of $0.21 per share, payable on June 1, 2022, to shareholders of record at the close of business on May 13, 2022. We currently expect to continue to pay comparable cash dividends on a quarterly basis, that will increase over time, depending on our earnings and other factors, including approval by our Board.

For information on securities authorized for issuance under our existing equity compensation plans, see Item 12 under the heading “Security Ownership of Certain Beneficial Owners and Management and Related Stockholder Matters.”

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PERFORMANCE GRAPH

Set forth below is a line graph comparing the five-year cumulative total shareholder return on our common shares, based on the market price of the common shares and assuming reinvestment of dividends, with the cumulative total return of companies in the Standard & Poor’s 500 Stock Index and a peer group composed of food and drug companies.

Chart, line chart

Description automatically generated

Base

INDEXED RETURNS

 

Period

Years Ending

 

Company Name/Index

    

2016

    

2017

    

2018

    

2019

    

2020

    

2021

 

The Kroger Co.

 

100

 

89.60

 

87.34

 

85.54

 

112.22

 

144.28

S&P 500 Index

 

100

 

122.83

 

122.76

 

149.23

 

174.97

 

211.72

Peer Group

 

100

 

129.19

 

125.47

 

151.40

 

186.24

 

219.91

Kroger’s fiscal year ends on the Saturday closest to January 31.

Data supplied by Standard & Poor’s.

The foregoing Performance Graph will not be deemed incorporated by reference into any other filing, absent an express reference thereto.

*     Total assumes $100 invested on January 28, 2017, in The Kroger Co., S&P 500 Index, and the Peer Group, with reinvestment of dividends.

**   The Peer Group consists of Albertsons Companies, Inc. (included from June 26, 2020 when it began trading), Costco Wholesale Corp., CVS Health Corporation, Koninklijke Ahold Delhaize N.V., Supervalu Inc. (included through October 19, 2018 when it was acquired by United Natural Foods), Target Corp., Walgreens Boots Alliance Inc., Walmart Inc., Whole Foods Market Inc. (included through August 28, 2017 when it was acquired by Amazon.com, Inc.).

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The following table presents information on our purchases of our common shares during the fourth quarter of 2021:

ISSUER PURCHASES OF EQUITY SECURITIES

    

Approximate Dollar

 

Value of Shares

 

Total Number of

that May Yet Be

 

Shares Purchased

Purchased Under

 

Total Number

Average

as Part of Publicly

the Plans or

 

of Shares

Price Paid Per

Announced Plans

Programs(4)

 

Period(1)

    

Purchased(2)

    

Share(2)

    

or Programs(3)

    

(in millions)

 

First four weeks

November 7, 2021 to December 4, 2021

 

2,710,844

$

42.15

 

2,710,600

$

387

Second four weeks

December 5, 2021 to January 1, 2022

 

6,239,527

$

44.64

 

6,220,863

$

140

Third four weeks

January 2, 2022 to January 29, 2022

 

4,368,946

$

47.28

 

4,368,946

$

821

Total

 

13,319,317

$

45.00

 

13,300,409

$

821

(1)The reported periods conform to our fiscal calendar composed of thirteen 28-day periods. The fourth quarter of 2021 contained three 28-day periods.

(2)Includes (i) shares repurchased under the June 2021 Repurchase Program and the December 2021 Repurchase Program described below in (4), (ii) shares repurchased under a program announced on December 6, 1999 to repurchase common shares to reduce dilution resulting from our employee stock option and long-term incentive plans, under which repurchases are limited to proceeds received from exercises of stock options and the tax benefits associated therewith (“1999 Repurchase Program”) and (iii) 18,908 shares that were surrendered to the Company by participants under our long-term incentive plans to pay for taxes on restricted stock awards.

(3)Represents shares repurchased under the June 2021 Repurchase Program, the December 2021 Repurchase Program and the 1999 Repurchase Program.

(4)On June 16, 2021, our Board of Directors approved a $1.0 billion share repurchase program to reacquire shares via open market purchase or privately negotiated transactions, block trades, or pursuant to trades intending to comply with Rule 10b5-1 under the Securities Exchange Act of 1934, as amended (the “June 2021 Repurchase Program”). On December 30, 2021, our Board of Directors approved a $1.0 billion share repurchase program to reacquire shares via open market purchase or privately negotiated transactions, block trades, or pursuant to trades intending to comply with Rule 10b5-1 under the Securities Exchange Act of 1934, as amended (the “December 2021 Repurchase Program”). The December 2021 Repurchase Program authorization replaced the existing June 2021 Repurchase Program. The amounts shown in this column reflect the amount remaining under the June 2021 Repurchase Program or the December 2021 Repurchase Program as of the specified period end dates. Amounts available under the 1999 Repurchase Program are dependent upon option exercise activity. The December 2021 Repurchase Program and the 1999 Repurchase Program do not have an expiration date but may be suspended or terminated by our Board of Directors at any time.

ITEM 6.

RESERVED.

Not applicable.

22

ITEM 7.

MANAGEMENT’S DISCUSSION AND ANALYSIS OF FINANCIAL CONDITION AND RESULTS OF OPERATIONS.

The following discussion and analysis of financial condition and results of operations of The Kroger Co. should be read in conjunction with the “Forward-looking Statements” section set forth in Part I and the “Risk Factors” section set forth in Item 1A of Part I. MD&A is provided as a supplement to, and should be read in conjunction with, our Consolidated Financial Statements and the accompanying notes thereto contained in Item 8 of this report, as well as Part II, Item 7 “Management's Discussion and Analysis of Financial Condition and Results of Operations” of our Form 10-K for the year ended January 30, 2021, which provides additional information on comparisons of fiscal years 2020 and 2019.

Significant fluctuations occurred in our business during 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. As a result, management compares current year identical sales without fuel, adjusted FIFO operating profit and adjusted net earnings per diluted share results to the same metrics for the comparable period in 2019, in addition to comparisons made to 2020. This enables management to evaluate results of the business and our financial model over a longer period of time, and to better understand the state of the business after the height of the pandemic compared to the period of time prior to the pandemic.

OUR VALUE CREATION MODEL – DELIVERING CONSISTENT AND ATTRACTIVE TOTAL SHAREHOLDER RETURN

Kroger has developed multiple levers within our business model to ensure we deliver net earnings growth and consistent and attractive total shareholder return (“TSR”). Our execution of this model is allowing us to deliver today and invest for the future. The foundation of our value creation model is our market leading omnichannel position in food retail, which is built on Kroger’s unique assets: our stores, digital ecosystem, Our Brands and our data. These unique assets, when combined with our go-to-market strategy, deliver an unmatched value proposition for our customers. We continue to invest in areas of the business that matter most to our customers and deepen our competitive moats of Fresh, Our Brands, Data & Personalization and Seamless, to drive sustainable sales growth in our retail supermarket business, including fuel and health & wellness. This, in turn, generates the data and traffic that enables our fast-growing, high operating margin alternative profits. We are evolving from a traditional food retailer into a more diverse, food first business that we expect will consistently deliver net earnings growth in the future. This will be achieved by:

Growing identical sales without fuel. A key component of our growth plan is to double digital sales and our digital profitability rate by 2023. Our plan also involves maximizing growth levers in our supermarket business and is supported by continued strategic investments in our customers, associates, and our Seamless eco-system to ensure we deliver a full, friendly and fresh experience for every customer, every time; and

Expanding operating margin, through a balanced model where strategic price investments for our customers and investments in our associates and seamless ecosystem are offset by our cost savings program, which has delivered $1 billion in cost savings annually for the past four years, and sustained growth in our alternative profit streams.

We expect to continue to generate strong free cash flow and are committed to being disciplined with capital deployment in support of our value creation model and stated capital allocation priorities. Our first priority is to invest in the business through attractive high return organic and inorganic opportunities that drive long-term sustainable net earnings growth. We are committed to maintaining our current investment grade debt rating and our net total debt to adjusted EBITDA ratio target range of 2.30 to 2.50. We also expect to continue to grow our dividend over time and return excess cash to shareholders via stock repurchases.

We expect our value creation model will result in total shareholder return over the long-term within our target range of 8% to 11%.

23

2021 EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

Our strategic priorities of leading with fresh and accelerating with digital propelled Kroger to record performance in 2021, on top of record results in 2020. These results demonstrate the strength of our go-to-market strategy, which led to achieving positive identical sales without fuel against very strong identical sales without fuel last year, resulting in a two-year stacked growth rate of 14.3%. Digital sales two-year stacked growth was 113% for 2021 and has grown triple digits since the beginning of 2019. We connected with customers through our expanding seamless ecosystem and the consistent delivery of a full, fresh, and friendly customer experience. We invested more than ever before in our associates to raise our average hourly wage to $17 and our average hourly rate to over $22 with comprehensive benefits included. We balanced these investments by achieving cost savings greater than $1 billion for the fourth consecutive year and alternative profits contributed an incremental $150 million of operating profit. Our agility and the commitment from our associates is allowing us to navigate a more volatile inflationary environment, current labor and supply chain conditions, and provide fresh food at affordable prices across our seamless ecosystem.

The following graphic illustrates our go-to-market strategy:

A picture containing diagram

Description automatically generated

As we look to 2022, we expect the momentum in our business to continue and have confidence in our ability to navigate a rapidly changing operating environment. Our 2022 guidance reaffirms that we are creating a new, higher base from which we expect to grow. Our adjusted FIFO operating profit guidance for 2022 is $900 million higher than our TSR model would have projected when we announced it in 2019. Our guidance also highlights the flexibility and multiple levers that exist within our model today, which will allow us to deliver adjusted net earnings per diluted share growth in 2022, while cycling COVID-19 effects and investing for future growth. We are leveraging technology, innovation, and our competitive moats to build lasting competitive advantages. Our balanced model is allowing us to deliver for shareholders, invest in our associates, continue to provide fresh affordable food to our customers and uplift our communities. We remain confident in our value creation model and we expect to deliver total shareholder return over the long-term within our target range of 8% to 11%.

24

The following table provides highlights of our financial performance:

Financial Performance Data

($ in millions, except per share amounts)

Fiscal Year

   

Percentage

   

2021

Change

2020

Sales

$

137,888

4.1

%  

$

132,498

Sales without fuel

$

123,210

0.2

%  

$

123,012

Net earnings attributable to The Kroger Co.

$

1,655

(36.0)

%  

$

2,585

Adjusted net earnings attributable to The Kroger Co.

$

2,802

2.3

%  

$

2,740

Net earnings attributable to The Kroger Co. per diluted common share

$

2.17

(33.6)

%  

$

3.27

Adjusted net earnings attributable to The Kroger Co. per diluted common share

$

3.68

6.1

%  

$

3.47

Operating profit

$

3,477

25.1

%  

$

2,780

Adjusted FIFO operating profit

$

4,310

6.3

%  

$

4,056

Dividends paid

$

589

10.3

%  

$

534

Dividends paid per common share

$

0.78

14.7

%  

$

0.68

Identical sales excluding fuel

0.2

%  

N/A

14.1

%

FIFO gross margin rate, excluding fuel, bps increase (decrease)

(0.43)

N/A

0.14

OG&A rate, excluding fuel and Adjusted Items, bps decrease

0.61

N/A

0.06

Reduction in total debt, including obligations under finance leases compared to prior fiscal year end

$

49

N/A

$

663

Share repurchases

$

1,647

N/A

$

1,324

OVERVIEW

 

Notable items for 2021 are:

Shareholder Return

Net earnings attributable to The Kroger Co. per diluted common share of $2.17, which results in a two-year compounded annual growth rate of 3.1%.

Adjusted net earnings attributable to The Kroger Co. per diluted common share of $3.68, which results in a two-year compounded annual growth rate of 29.6%.

Achieved operating profit of $3.5 billion, which results in a two-year compounded annual growth rate of 24.3%.

Achieved adjusted FIFO operating profit of $ 4.3 billion, which results in a two-year compounded annual growth rate of 20.0%.

Generated cash flows from operations of $6.2 billion.

Returned $2.2 billion to shareholders through share repurchases and dividend payments.

Achieved cost savings greater than $1 billion for the fourth consecutive year.

Other Financial Results

Identical sales, excluding fuel, increased 0.2%, which results in a two-year stacked growth rate of 14.3%.

Digital sales two-year stacked growth was 113%. Digital sales include products ordered online and picked up at our stores and products delivered or shipped directly to a customer’s home.

Our Home Chef business surpassed $1 billion in sales in 2021, becoming the newest Our Brands billion dollar brand in our portfolio.

25

Alternative profit streams contributed an incremental $150 million of operating profit for 2021 fueled by our digital media business – Kroger Precision Marketing (“KPM”) and Kroger Personal Finance.

We are currently operating in a more volatile inflationary environment and we experienced higher product cost inflation in most departments during 2021. Our LIFO charge for 2021 was $197 million, compared to a credit of $7 million in 2020. This increase of $204 million was attributable to higher inflation in most categories, with grocery and meat being the largest contributors.

Significant Events

During 2021, we settled certain company-sponsored pension plan obligations using existing assets of the plans. We recognized a non-cash settlement charge of $87 million, $68 million net of tax, associated with the settlement of our obligations for the eligible participants’ pension balances that were distributed out of the plans via a lump sum distribution or the purchase of an annuity contract, based on each participant’s election. The settlement charge is included in “Non-service component of company-sponsored pension plan costs” in the Consolidated Statements of Operations. The effect of this transaction on net earnings per diluted share was $0.09 for 2021 and is excluded from adjusted net earnings per diluted share results.

During 2021, Fred Meyer and QFC and four local unions ratified an agreement for the transfer of liabilities from the Sound Retirement Trust to the United Food and Commercial Workers (“UFCW”) Consolidated Pension Plan. The agreement transferred $449 million, $344 million net of tax, in net accrued pension liabilities and prepaid escrow funds, to fulfill obligations for past service for associates and retirees. The agreement will be satisfied by cash installment payments to the UFCW Consolidated Pension Plan and are expected to be paid evenly over seven years. The impact of this transaction on net earnings per diluted share was $0.45 for 2021 and is excluded from adjusted net earnings per diluted share results.

During 2021, we opened our first three Kroger Delivery customer fulfillment centers powered by Ocado Group plc in Monroe, Ohio, Groveland, Florida, a new Kroger geography, and Forest Park, Georgia.

COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic has had, and is continuing to have, a significant impact on our business and results of operations. We expect the ultimate significance will be dictated by the length of time that such circumstances continue, which will depend on the currently unknowable extent and duration of the COVID-19 pandemic and any governmental and public actions taken in response. Since the beginning of the pandemic, our most urgent priority has been to safeguard our associates and customers. We’ve implemented dozens of new safety and cleanliness processes and procedures in our stores and other facilities.

As the pandemic has evolved, we have experienced unusually strong sales beginning in 2020 and continuing throughout 2021. We continue to see people eat and work more from home and prioritize health and cleanliness. The change in customer behavior caused by COVID-19 was a major factor in our results over the past two years. The pandemic brought to the forefront the importance to the customer of fresh and a seamless digital offering. We continued to invest and grow our capabilities in these areas, which led to achieving positive identical sales without fuel in 2021 against very strong identical sales results last year, which results in a two-year stacked growth rate of 14.3%. Digital sales two-year stacked growth was 113% for 2021, enabled by our team’s ability to pivot quickly and effectively in the first stage of the pandemic to ensure that we were meeting our customers’ demand for safe, low-touch or touchless shopping modalities.

Our operating, general and administrative (“OG&A”) expenses for 2021 reflected a reduction of the significant COVID related costs we incurred in 2020. Our OG&A expenses for 2020 included significant incremental costs related to investments in pay and benefits for our associates and measures to safeguard our associates and customers. As a percentage of sales, these incremental costs in 2020 were partially offset by sales leverage resulting from strong sales growth due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

26

Strong execution by our team and accelerated investments in our competitive moats over the past two fiscal years allowed us to strengthen our balance sheet. At the onset of the pandemic in March 2020, we proactively borrowed $1 billion under the revolving credit facility. This was a precautionary measure in order to preserve financial flexibility, reduce reliance on the commercial paper market and maintain liquidity in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. During 2020, we fully repaid the $1 billion borrowed under the revolving credit facility in addition to $1.2 billion of commercial paper obligations outstanding as of year-end 2019, using cash generated by operations. We maintain a temporary cash investment balance of $1.5 billion as of year-end 2021.

For additional information about our debt activity in 2021 and 2020, including the drawdown and repayments under our revolving credit facility, forward-starting interest rate swap agreements and our senior note issuances, see Note 5 to the Consolidated Financial Statements. For additional information about our business results, including the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, see our Results of Operations and Liquidity and Capital Resources sections within MD&A.

OUR BUSINESS

The Kroger Co. (the “Company” or “Kroger”) was founded in 1883 and incorporated in 1902. We are one of the world’s largest retailers, as measured by revenue. Our retail business is built on the foundation of our market leading position in food retail which includes the added convenience of our retail pharmacies and fuel centers. Our market leading position in food retail reflects the strength of our competitive moats of Fresh, Our Brands, Data & Personalization and Seamless, and our unique combination of assets.

We also leverage the data and traffic generated by our retail business to deliver incremental value and services for our customers that generates alternative profit streams. These alternative profit streams would not exist without our core retail business.

Kroger is diversified across brands, product categories, channels of distribution, geographies and consumer demographics. Our unique combination of assets include the following:

Stores

As of January 29, 2022, Kroger operates supermarkets under a variety of local banner names in 35 states and the District of Columbia. As of January 29, 2022, Kroger operated, either directly or through its subsidiaries, 2,726 supermarkets, of which 2,252 had pharmacies and 1,613 had fuel centers. We connect with customers through our expanding seamless ecosystem and the consistent delivery of a full, fresh, and friendly customer experience. Fuel sales are an important part of our revenue, net earnings and loyalty offering.  Our fuel strategy is to include a fuel center at each of our supermarket locations when it is feasible and it is expected to be profitable.

Seamless Digital Ecosystem

Our digital ecosystem provides a fresh and seamless offering for our customers. Through investment and innovation, we continue to improve our seamless ecosystem to ensure it remains relevant. We offer a convenient shopping experience for our customers regardless of how they choose to shop with us, including Pickup, Delivery and Ship. We offer Pickup (also referred to as ClickList®) and Harris Teeter ExpressLane™ — personalized, order online, pick up at the store services — at 2,257 of our supermarkets and provide home delivery services, which allows us to offer digital solutions to 98% of our customers. We provide relevant customer-facing apps and interfaces that have the features customers want that are also reliable, easy to use and deliver a seamless customer experience across our store and digital channels.

Merchandising and Manufacturing

Our Brands products play an important role in our merchandising strategy and represented nearly $28 billion of our sales in 2021. We operate 33 food production plants, primarily bakeries and dairies, which supply approximately 29% of Our Brands units and 41% of the grocery category Our Brands units sold in our supermarkets; the remaining Our Brands items are produced to our strict specifications by outside manufacturers.

27

Our Data

We are evolving from a traditional food retailer into a more diverse, food first business. The traffic and data generated by our retail supermarket business, including pharmacies and fuel centers, is enabling this transformation. Kroger serves over 60 million households annually and because of our market leading rewards program, 96% of customer transactions are tethered to a Kroger loyalty card. Our 20 years of investment in data science capabilities is allowing us to leverage this data to create personalized experiences and value for our customers and is also enabling our fast-growing, high operating margin alternative profits, including data analytic services and third party media revenue. Our retail media business – Kroger Precision Marketing – provides best in class media capabilities for our consumer packaged goods partners and is a key driver of our digital profitability and alternative profit.

Our revenues are predominately earned and cash is generated as consumer products are sold to customers in our stores, fuel centers and via our online platforms.  We earn income predominately by selling products at price levels that produce revenues in excess of the costs we incur to make these products available to our customers.  Such costs include procurement and distribution costs, facility occupancy and operational costs, and overhead expenses. Our retail operations, which represent 97% of our consolidated sales, is our only reportable segment.

Other Events Affecting our Business

On January 27, 2020, Lucky’s Market filed a voluntary petition in the Bankruptcy Court seeking relief under the Bankruptcy Code. Lucky’s Market is included in our Consolidated Statements of Operations through January 26, 2020. Refer to Note 16 to the Consolidated Financial Statements for additional information.

On April 26, 2019, we completed the sale of our Turkey Hill Dairy business for total proceeds of $225 million. Turkey Hill Dairy is included in our Consolidated Statements of Operations through April 25, 2019.

On March 13, 2019, we completed the sale of our You Technology business to Inmar for total consideration of $565 million, including $396 million of cash and $64 million of preferred equity received upon closing. We are also entitled to receive other cash payments of $105 million over five years. The transaction includes a long-term service agreement for Inmar to provide us digital coupon services. You Technology is included in our Consolidated Statements of Operations through March 12, 2019.

USE OF NON-GAAP FINANCIAL MEASURES

 

The accompanying Consolidated Financial Statements, including the related notes, are presented in accordance with generally accepted accounting principles (“GAAP”). We provide non-GAAP measures, including First-In, First-Out (“FIFO”) gross margin, FIFO operating profit, adjusted FIFO operating profit, adjusted net earnings and adjusted net earnings per diluted share because management believes these metrics are useful to investors and analysts. These non- GAAP financial measures should not be considered as an alternative to gross margin, operating profit, net earnings and net earnings per diluted share or any other GAAP measure of performance. These measures should not be reviewed in isolation or considered as a substitute for our financial results as reported in accordance with GAAP.

We calculate FIFO gross margin as FIFO gross profit divided by sales. FIFO gross profit is calculated as sales less merchandise costs, including advertising, warehousing, and transportation expenses, but excluding the Last-In, First-Out (“LIFO”) charge. Merchandise costs exclude depreciation and rent expenses. FIFO gross margin is an important measure used by management and management believes FIFO gross margin is a useful metric to investors and analysts because it measures the merchandising and operational effectiveness of our go-to-market strategy.

We calculate FIFO operating profit as operating profit excluding the LIFO charge. FIFO operating profit is an important measure used by management and management believes FIFO operating profit is a useful metric to investors and analysts because it measures the operational effectiveness of our financial model.

28

The adjusted net earnings, adjusted net earnings per diluted share and adjusted FIFO operating profit metrics are important measures used by management to compare the performance of core operating results between periods. We believe adjusted net earnings, adjusted net earnings per diluted share and adjusted FIFO operating profit are useful metrics to investors and analysts because they present more accurate year-over-year comparisons of our net earnings, net earnings per diluted share and FIFO operating profit because adjusted items are not the result of our normal operations. Net earnings for 2021 include the following, which we define as the “2021 Adjusted Items:”

Charges to OG&A of $449 million, $344 million net of tax, for obligations related to withdrawal liabilities for a certain multi-employer pension fund, $66 million, $50 million net of tax, for the revaluation of Home Chef contingent consideration and $136 million, $104 million net of tax, for transformation costs (the “2021 OG&A Adjusted Items”).

Losses in other income (expense) of $87 million, $68 million net of tax, related to company-sponsored pension plan settlements and $821 million, $628 million net of tax, for the unrealized loss on investments (the “2021 Other Income (Expense) Adjusted Items”).

A reduction to income tax expense of $47 million primarily due to the completion of income tax audit examinations covering multiple years.

Net earnings for 2020 include the following, which we define as the “2020 Adjusted Items:”

Charges to OG&A of $989 million, $754 million net of tax, for commitments to certain multi-employer pension funds, $189 million, $141 million net of tax, for the revaluation of Home Chef contingent consideration and $111 million, $81 million net of tax, for transformation costs (the “2020 OG&A Adjusted Items”).

Gains in other income (expense) of $1.1 billion, $821 million net of tax, for the unrealized gain on investments (the “2020 Other Income (Expense) Adjusted Item”).

Net earnings for 2019 include the following, which we define as the “2019 Adjusted Items:”

Charges to OG&A of $135 million, $104 million net of tax, for obligations related to withdrawal liabilities for certain multi-employer pension funds; $80 million, $61 million net of tax, for a severance charge and related benefits; $412 million including $305 million attributable to The Kroger Co., $225 million net of tax, for impairment of Lucky’s Market; $52 million, $37 million net of tax, for transformation costs, primarily including 35 planned store closures; and a reduction to OG&A of $69 million, $49 million net of tax, for the revaluation of Home Chef contingent consideration (the “2019 OG&A Adjusted Items”).

Gains in other income (expense) of $106 million, $80 million net of tax, related to the sale of Turkey Hill Dairy; $70 million, $52 million net of tax, related to the sale of You Technology; and $157 million, $119 million net of tax, for the unrealized gain on investments (the “2019 Other Income (Expense) Adjusted Items”).

The following table provides a reconciliation of net earnings attributable to The Kroger Co. to adjusted net earnings attributable to The Kroger Co. and a reconciliation of net earnings attributable to The Kroger Co. per diluted common share to adjusted net earnings attributable to The Kroger Co. per diluted common share excluding the 2021, 2020 and 2019 Adjusted Items:

29

Net Earnings per Diluted Share excluding the Adjusted Items

($ in millions, except per share amounts)

    

2021

    

2020

    

2019

 

Net earnings attributable to The Kroger Co.

$

1,655

$

2,585

$

1,659

(Income) expense adjustments

Adjustment for pension plan withdrawal liabilities(1)(2)

 

344

 

754

 

104

Adjustment for gain on sale of Turkey Hill Dairy(1)(3)

(80)

Adjustment for gain on sale of You Technology(1)(4)

(52)

Adjustment for company-sponsored pension plan settlement charges(1)(5)

68

Adjustment for loss (gain) on investments(1)(6)

628

(821)

(119)

Adjustment for severance charge and related benefits(1)(7)

61

Adjustment for deconsolidation and impairment of Lucky's Market attributable to The Kroger Co.(1)(8)

225

Adjustment for Home Chef contingent consideration(1)(9)

50

141

(49)

Adjustment for transformation costs(1)(10)

104

81

37

Adjustment for income tax audit examinations(1)

(47)

Total Adjusted Items

1,147

155

127

Net earnings attributable to The Kroger Co. excluding the Adjusted Items

$

2,802

$

2,740

$

1,786

Net earnings attributable to The Kroger Co. per diluted common share

$

2.17

$

3.27

$

2.04

(Income) expense adjustments

Adjustment for pension plan withdrawal liabilities(11)

 

0.45

 

0.95

 

0.13

Adjustment for gain on sale of Turkey Hill Dairy(11)

(0.10)

Adjustment for gain on sale of You Technology(11)

(0.06)

Adjustment for company-sponsored pension plan settlement charges(11)

0.09

Adjustment for loss (gain) on investments(11)

0.83

(1.05)

(0.15)

Adjustment for severance charge and related benefits(11)

0.08

Adjustment for deconsolidation and impairment of Lucky's Market attributable to The Kroger Co.(11)

0.28

Adjustment for Home Chef contingent consideration(11)

0.07

0.18

(0.07)

Adjustment for transformation costs(11)

0.14

0.12

0.04

Adjustment for income tax audit examinations(11)

(0.07)

Total Adjusted Items

1.51

0.20

0.15

 

Net earnings attributable to The Kroger Co. per diluted common share excluding the Adjusted Items

$

3.68

$

3.47

$

2.19

Average numbers of common shares used in diluted calculation

 

754

 

781

 

805

(1)The amounts presented represent the after-tax effect of each adjustment, which was calculated using discrete tax rates.
(2)The pre-tax adjustment for pension plan withdrawal liabilities was $449 in 2021, $989 in 2020 and $135 in 2019.
(3)The pre-tax adjustment for gain on sale of Turkey Hill Dairy was ($106).
(4)The pre-tax adjustment for gain on sale of You Technology was ($70).
(5)The pre-tax adjustment for company-sponsored pension plan settlement charges was $87.
(6)The pre-tax adjustment for loss (gain) on investments was $821 in 2021, ($1,105) in 2020 and ($157) in 2019.
(7)The pre-tax adjustment for severance charge and related benefits was $80.
(8)The pre-tax adjustment for deconsolidation and impairment of Lucky’s Market was $412 including a $107 net loss attributable to the minority interest of Lucky’s Market.
(9)The pre-tax adjustment for Home Chef contingent consideration was $66 in 2021, $189 in 2020 and ($69) in 2019.
(10)The pre-tax adjustment for transformation costs was $136 in 2021, $111 in 2020 and $52 in 2019. Transformation costs primarily include costs related to store and business closure costs and third party professional consulting fees associated with business transformation and cost saving initiatives.
(11)The amount presented represents the net earnings per diluted common share effect of each adjustment.

30

Key Performance Indicators

We evaluate our results of operations and cash flows using a variety of key performance indicators, such as sales, identical sales, excluding fuel, FIFO gross margin, adjusted FIFO operating profit, adjusted net earnings, adjusted net earnings per diluted share and return on invested capital.  We use these financial metrics and related computations to evaluate our operational effectiveness and our results of operations from period to period and to plan for near and long-term operating and strategic decisions.  These key performance indicators should not be reviewed in isolation or considered as a substitute for our financial results as reported in accordance with GAAP. These measures, which are described in more detail in this Annual Report on Form 10-K, may not be comparable to similarly-titled performance indicators used by other companies.

RESULTS OF OPERATIONS

Sales

Total Sales

($ in millions)

   

   

Percentage

   

   

Percentage

   

 

2021

Change(1)

2020

Change(2)

2019

Total sales to retail customers without fuel(3)

$

122,293

0.1

%  

$

122,134

13.6

%  

$

107,487

Supermarket fuel sales

14,678

54.7

%  

 

9,486

(32.5)

%  

 

14,052

Other sales(4)

 

917

4.4

%  

 

878

17.5

%  

 

747

Total sales

$

137,888

4.1

%  

$

132,498

8.4

%  

$

122,286

(1)This column represents the percentage change in 2021 compared to 2020.
(2)This column represents the percentage change in 2020 compared to 2019.
(3)Digital sales are included in the “total sales to retail customers without fuel” line above. Digital sales include products ordered online and picked up at our stores and products delivered or shipped directly to a customer’s home. Digital sales decreased approximately 3% in 2021 and grew approximately 116% in 2020 and 29% in 2019. The change in results for 2021 compared to 2020 is primarily due to cycling COVID-19 trends. While digital sales decreased 3% during 2021, almost all customers who reduced their online spend during the year continued to shop with us in store, highlighting the power of our seamless ecosystem and our ability to create a meaningful customer experience across channels.
(4)Other sales primarily relate to external sales at food production plants, data analytic services and third party media revenue. The increase in 2021, compared to 2020, is primarily due to an increase in data analytic services and third-party media revenue, partially offset by decreased external sales at food production plants due to the closing of a plant. The increase in 2020, compared to 2019, is primarily due to growth in third-party media revenue, partially offset by decreased sales due to the disposal of Turkey Hill Dairy and You Technology in the first quarter of 2019.

Total sales increased in 2021, compared to 2020, by 4.1%. The increase was primarily due to an increase in supermarket fuel sales. Total sales, excluding fuel, increased 0.2% in 2021, compared to 2020, which was primarily due to our identical sales increase, excluding fuel, of 0.2%. Identical sales, excluding fuel, increased in 2021 on top of record sales results in 2020, which was primarily caused by unprecedented demand due to the COVID-19 pandemic during 2020. Our two-year identical sales, excluding fuel, stacked growth was 14.3%. Total supermarket fuel sales increased 54.7% in 2021, compared to 2020, primarily due to an increase in fuel gallons sold of 7.9% and an increase in the average retail fuel price of 43.6%. The increase in the average retail fuel price was caused by an increase in the product cost of fuel.

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Total sales increased in 2020, compared to 2019, by 8.4%. The increase was due to an increase in total sales to retail customers without fuel, partially offset by a reduction in supermarket fuel sales and decreased sales due to the disposal of Turkey Hill Dairy and You Technology in the first quarter of 2019. Total sales to retail customers without fuel increased 13.6% in 2020, compared to 2019. The increase was primarily due to our identical sales increase, excluding fuel, of 14.1%, partially offset by decreased sales due to the deconsolidation of Lucky’s Market in the fourth quarter of 2019. Total sales excluding fuel and dispositions increased 14.2% in 2020 compared to 2019. The significant increase in identical sales, excluding fuel, was caused by unprecedented demand due to the COVID-19 pandemic, digital sales growth and growth in market share. Market share growth contributed to our identical sales increase, excluding fuel, as our sales outpaced the general growth in the food retail industry during 2020. The increase in identical sales, excluding fuel, was broad based across all supermarket divisions and remained heightened throughout 2020. During the pandemic, customers reduced trips while significantly increasing basket value.

Total supermarket fuel sales decreased 32.5% in 2020, compared to 2019, primarily due to a decrease in fuel gallons sold of 17.5% and a decrease in the average retail fuel price of 18.2%. The decrease in fuel gallons sold was reflective of the national trend, which decreased due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The decrease in the average retail fuel price was caused by a decrease in the product cost of fuel.

We calculate identical sales, excluding fuel, as sales to retail customers, including sales from all departments at identical supermarket locations, Kroger Specialty Pharmacy businesses and ship-to-home solutions. We define a supermarket as identical when it has been in operation without expansion or relocation for five full quarters. We define Kroger Specialty Pharmacy businesses as identical when physical locations have been in operation continuously for five full quarters; discontinued patient therapies are excluded from the identical sales calculation starting in the quarter of transfer or termination. Although identical sales is a relatively standard term, numerous methods exist for calculating identical sales growth. As a result, the method used by our management to calculate identical sales may differ from methods other companies use to calculate identical sales. We urge you to understand the methods used by other companies to calculate identical sales before comparing our identical sales to those of other such companies. Our identical sales, excluding fuel, results are summarized in the following table. We used the identical sales, excluding fuel, dollar figures presented below to calculate percentage changes for 2021 and 2020.

Identical Sales

($ in millions)

    

2021

    

2020

 

Excluding fuel

$

120,802

$

120,575

Excluding fuel

 

0.2

%  

 

14.1

%

Gross Margin, LIFO and FIFO Gross Margin

We define gross margin as sales minus merchandise costs, including advertising, warehousing, and transportation. Rent expense, depreciation and amortization expense, and interest expense are not included in gross margin.

Our gross margin rates, as a percentage of sales, were 22.01% in 2021 and 23.32% in 2020. The decrease in rate in 2021, compared to 2020, resulted primarily from increased fuel sales, which have a lower gross margin rate, a decrease in our fuel gross margin, continued strategic investments in lower prices for our customers, a COVID-19-related inventory write down for personal protective equipment donated to community partners, a higher LIFO charge and increased shrink and transportation costs, as a percentage of sales, partially offset by growth in our alternative profit streams and effective negotiations to achieve savings on the cost of products sold.

Our LIFO charge was $197 million in 2021 compared to a LIFO credit of $7 million in 2020. The increase in our LIFO charge was attributable to higher inflation in most categories, with grocery and meat being the largest contributors.

Our FIFO gross margin rate, which excludes the LIFO charge, was 22.15% in 2021, compared to 23.32% in 2020. Our fuel sales lower our FIFO gross margin rate due to the very low FIFO gross margin rate, as a percentage of sales, of fuel sales compared to non-fuel sales. Excluding the effect of fuel, our FIFO gross margin rate decreased 43 basis points in 2021, compared to 2020. This decrease resulted primarily from continued strategic investments in lower prices for our customers, a COVID-19-related inventory write down for personal protective equipment donated to community partners and increased shrink and transportation costs, as a percentage of sales, partially offset by growth in our alternative profit streams and effective negotiations to achieve savings on the cost of products sold.

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Operating, General and Administrative Expenses

OG&A expenses consist primarily of employee-related costs such as wages, healthcare benefit costs, retirement plan costs, utilities, and credit card fees. Rent expense, depreciation and amortization expense, and interest expense are not included in OG&A.

OG&A expenses, as a percentage of sales, were 16.83% in 2021 and 18.49% in 2020. The decrease in 2021, compared to 2020, resulted primarily from decreased COVID-19-related costs, lower contributions to multi-employer pension plans, decreased incentive plan costs, the 2020 OG&A Adjusted Items, the effect of increased fuel sales, which decreases our OG&A rate, as a percentage of sales, and broad-based improvement from cost savings initiatives that drive administrative efficiencies, store productivity and sourcing cost reductions, partially offset by significant investments in our associates and the 2021 OG&A Adjusted Items.

Our fuel sales lower our OG&A rate, as a percentage of sales, due to the very low OG&A rate, as a percentage of sales, of fuel sales compared to non-fuel sales. Excluding the effect of fuel, the 2021 OG&A Adjusted Items and the 2020 OG&A Adjusted Items, our OG&A rate decreased 61 basis points in 2021, compared to 2020. This decrease resulted primarily from decreased COVID-19-related costs, lower contributions to multi-employer pension plans, decreased incentive plan costs and broad-based improvement from cost savings initiatives that drive administrative efficiencies, store productivity and sourcing cost reductions, partially offset by significant investments in our associates.

Rent Expense

Rent expense was $845 million, or 0.61% of sales, for 2021, compared to $874 million, or 0.66% of sales, for 2020. Rent expense, as a percentage of sales, decreased 5 basis points in 2021, compared to 2020, primarily due to the completion of a property transaction related to 28 previously leased properties that we are now accounting for as owned locations and therefore recognizing depreciation and amortization expense over their useful life. For additional information about this transaction, see Note 5 to the Consolidated Financial Statements.

Depreciation and Amortization Expense

Depreciation and amortization expense was $2.8 billion, or 2.05% of sales, for 2021, compared to $2.7 billion, or 2.07% of sales, for 2020. Depreciation and amortization expense remained consistent, as a percentage of sales, in 2021, compared to 2020.

Operating Profit and FIFO Operating Profit

Operating profit was $3.5 billion, or 2.52% of sales, for 2021, compared to $2.8 billion, or 2.10% of sales, for 2020. Operating profit, as a percentage of sales, increased 42 basis points in 2021, compared to 2020, due to decreased OG&A expense, as a percentage of sales, partially offset by an increased LIFO charge and a lower FIFO gross margin rate. Fuel earnings also contributed to our operating profit growth for 2021, compared to 2020.

FIFO operating profit was $3.7 billion, or 2.66% of sales, for 2021, compared to $2.8 billion, or 2.09% of sales, for 2020. FIFO operating profit, as a percentage of sales, excluding the 2021 and 2020 Adjusted Items, increased 7 basis points in 2021, compared to 2020, due to decreased OG&A expense, as a percentage of sales, partially offset by a lower FIFO gross margin rate. Fuel earnings also contributed to our FIFO operating profit growth for 2021, compared to 2020.

Specific factors contributing to the trends driving operating profit and FIFO operating profit identified above are discussed earlier in this section.

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The following table provides a reconciliation of operating profit to FIFO operating profit, and to Adjusted FIFO operating profit, excluding the 2021 and 2020 Adjusted Items:

Operating Profit excluding the Adjusted Items

($ in millions)

    

2021

    

2020

Operating profit

$

3,477

$

2,780

LIFO charge (credit)

197

(7)

 

FIFO Operating profit

 

3,674

 

2,773

Adjustment for pension plan withdrawal liabilities

449

989

Adjustment for Home Chef contingent consideration

66

189

Adjustment for transformation costs(1)

136

111

Other

(15)

(6)

2021 and 2020 Adjusted items

636

1,283

Adjusted FIFO operating profit excluding the adjustment items above

$

4,310

$

4,056

(1)Transformation costs primarily include costs related to store and business closure costs and third-party professional consulting fees associated with business transformation and cost saving initiatives.

Interest Expense

Interest expense totaled $571 million in 2021 and $544 million in 2020. The increase in interest expense in 2021, compared to 2020, resulted primarily from the completion of a property transaction related to 28 previously leased properties that we are now accounting for as owned locations. The structure used to complete this transaction requires our liability to be shown as debt. As a result of this transaction, rent expense decreased with a corresponding increase in interest expense and depreciation and amortization expense. For additional information about this transaction, see Note 5 to the Consolidated Financial Statements.

Income Taxes

Our effective income tax rate was 18.8% in 2021 and 23.2% in 2020. The 2021 tax rate differed from the federal statutory rate due to a discrete benefit of $47 million which was primarily from the favorable outcome of income tax audit examinations covering multiple years, the benefit from share-based payments and the utilization of tax credits, partially offset by the effect of state income taxes.  The 2020 tax rate differed from the federal statutory rate primarily due to the effect of state income taxes, partially offset by the utilization of tax credits and deductions.

Net Earnings and Net Earnings Per Diluted Share

Our net earnings are based on the factors discussed in the Results of Operations section.

Net earnings of $2.17 per diluted share for 2021 represented a decrease of 33.6% compared to net earnings of $3.27 per diluted share for 2020. Adjusted net earnings of $3.68 per diluted share for 2021 represented an increase of 6.1% compared to adjusted net earnings of $3.47 per diluted share for 2020. The increase in adjusted net earnings per diluted share resulted primarily from increased FIFO operating profit, excluding fuel, increased fuel earnings and lower weighted average common shares outstanding due to common share repurchases, partially offset by a higher LIFO charge.

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RETURN ON INVESTED CAPITAL

We calculate return on invested capital (“ROIC”) by dividing adjusted ROIC operating profit for the prior four quarters by the average invested capital.  Adjusted operating profit for ROIC purposes is calculated by excluding certain items included in operating profit, and adding back our LIFO charge (credit), depreciation and amortization and rent to our U.S. GAAP operating profit of the prior four quarters.  Average invested capital is calculated as the sum of (i) the average of our total assets, (ii) the average LIFO reserve and (iii) the average accumulated depreciation and amortization; minus (i) the average taxes receivable, (ii) the average trade accounts payable, (iii) the average accrued salaries and wages and (iv) the average other current liabilities, excluding accrued income taxes.  Averages are calculated for ROIC by adding the beginning balance of the first quarter and the ending balance of the fourth quarter, of the last four quarters, and dividing by two.  ROIC is a non-GAAP financial measure of performance.  ROIC should not be reviewed in isolation or considered as a substitute for our financial results as reported in accordance with GAAP.  ROIC is an important measure used by management to evaluate our investment returns on capital.  Management believes ROIC is a useful metric to investors and analysts because it measures how effectively we are deploying our assets.

Although ROIC is a relatively standard financial term, numerous methods exist for calculating a company’s ROIC.  As a result, the method used by our management to calculate ROIC may differ from methods other companies use to calculate their ROIC.  We urge you to understand the methods used by other companies to calculate their ROIC before comparing our ROIC to that of such other companies.

The following table provides a calculation of ROIC for 2021 and 2020 on a 52 week basis ($ in millions):

Fiscal Year Ended

January 29,

January 30,

    

2022

2021

 

Return on Invested Capital

Numerator

Operating profit

$

3,477

$

2,780

LIFO charge (credit)

 

197

 

(7)

Depreciation and amortization

 

2,824

 

2,747

Rent

 

845

 

874

Adjustment for Home Chef contingent consideration

66

189

Adjustment for pension plan withdrawal liabilities

449

989

Adjustment for transformation costs

136

111

Adjusted ROIC operating profit

$

7,994

$

7,683

Denominator

Average total assets

$

48,874

$

46,959

Average taxes receivable(1)

 

(54)

 

(74)

Average LIFO reserve

 

1,472

 

1,377

Average accumulated depreciation and amortization

 

24,868

 

24,161

Average trade accounts payable

 

(6,898)

 

(6,514)

Average accrued salaries and wages

 

(1,575)

 

(1,291)

Average other current liabilities(2)

 

(5,976)

 

(4,926)

Average invested capital

$

60,711

$

59,692

Return on Invested Capital

 

13.17

%  

 

12.87

%

(1)Taxes receivable were $42 as of January 29, 2022, $66 as of January 30, 2021 and $82 as of February 1, 2020.
(2)Other current liabilities included accrued income taxes of $9 as of January 30, 2021. We did not have any accrued income taxes as of January 29, 2022 and February 1, 2020. Accrued income taxes are removed from other current liabilities in the calculation of average invested capital.

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CRITICAL ACCOUNTING ESTIMATES

We have chosen accounting policies that we believe are appropriate to report accurately and fairly our operating results and financial position, and we apply those accounting policies in a consistent manner.  Our significant accounting policies are summarized in Note 1 to the Consolidated Financial Statements.

The preparation of financial statements in conformity with GAAP requires us to make estimates and assumptions that affect the reported amounts of assets, liabilities, revenues, and expenses, and related disclosures of contingent assets and liabilities.  We base our estimates on historical experience and other factors we believe to be reasonable under the circumstances, the results of which form the basis for making judgments about the carrying values of assets and liabilities that are not readily apparent from other sources.  Actual results could differ from those estimates.

We believe the following accounting estimates are the most critical in the preparation of our financial statements because they involve the most difficult, subjective or complex judgments about the effect of matters that are inherently uncertain.

Impairments of Long-Lived Assets

We monitor the carrying value of long-lived assets for potential impairment each quarter based on whether certain triggering events have occurred.  These events include current period losses combined with a history of losses or a projection of continuing losses or a significant decrease in the market value of an asset.  When a triggering event occurs, we perform an impairment calculation, comparing projected undiscounted cash flows, utilizing current cash flow information and expected growth rates related to specific stores, to the carrying value for those stores.  If we identify impairment for long-lived assets to be held and used, we compare the assets’ current carrying value to the assets’ fair value. Fair value is determined based on market values or discounted future cash flows. We record impairment when the carrying value exceeds fair market value. With respect to owned property and equipment held for disposal, we adjust the value of the property and equipment to reflect recoverable values based on our previous efforts to dispose of similar assets and current economic conditions.  We recognize impairment for the excess of the carrying value over the estimated fair market value, reduced by estimated direct costs of disposal. We recorded asset impairments in the normal course of business totaling $64 million in 2021 and $70 million in 2020. We record costs to reduce the carrying value of long-lived assets in the Consolidated Statements of Operations as OG&A expense.

The factors that most significantly affect the impairment calculation are our estimates of future cash flows.  Our cash flow projections look several years into the future and include assumptions on variables such as inflation, the economy and market competition.  Application of alternative assumptions and definitions, such as reviewing long-lived assets for impairment at a different level, could produce significantly different results.

Business Combinations

We account for business combinations using the acquisition method of accounting. All the assets acquired, liabilities assumed and amounts attributable to noncontrolling interests are recorded at their respective fair values at the date of acquisition once we obtain control of an entity. The determination of fair values of identifiable assets and liabilities involves estimates and the use of valuation techniques when market value is not readily available. We use various techniques to determine fair value in such instances, including the income approach. Significant estimates used in determining fair value include, but are not limited to, the amount and timing of future cash flows, growth rates, discount rates and useful lives. The excess of the purchase price over fair values of identifiable assets and liabilities is recorded as goodwill. See Note 2 for further information about goodwill.

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Goodwill

Our goodwill totaled $3.1 billion as of January 29, 2022. We review goodwill for impairment in the fourth quarter of each year, and also upon the occurrence of triggering events.  We perform reviews of each of our operating divisions and other consolidated entities (collectively, “reporting units”) that have goodwill balances. Generally, fair value is determined using a multiple of earnings, or discounted projected future cash flows, and we compare fair value to the carrying value of a reporting unit for purposes of identifying potential impairment.  We base projected future cash flows on management’s knowledge of the current operating environment and expectations for the future.  We recognize goodwill impairment for any excess of a reporting unit's carrying value over its fair value, not to exceed the total amount of goodwill allocated to the reporting unit.

Our annual evaluation of goodwill is performed for our reporting units during the fourth quarter. The 2021 fair value of our Kroger Specialty Pharmacy reporting unit was estimated using multiple valuation techniques: a discounted cash flow model (income approach), a market multiple model and a comparable mergers and acquisition model (market approaches), with each method weighted in the calculation. The income approach relies on management’s projected future cash flows, estimates of revenue growth rates, margin assumptions and an appropriate discount rate. The market approaches require the determination of an appropriate peer group, which is utilized to derive estimated fair values based on selected market multiples. The annual evaluation of goodwill performed in 2021, 2020 and 2019 did not result in impairment for any of our reporting units. Based on current and future expected cash flows, we believe additional goodwill impairments are not reasonably likely. A 10% reduction in fair value of our reporting units would not indicate a potential for impairment of our goodwill balance.

For additional information relating to our results of the goodwill impairment reviews performed during 2021, 2020 and 2019, see Note 2 to the Consolidated Financial Statements.

The impairment review requires the extensive use of management judgment and financial estimates.  Application of alternative estimates and assumptions could produce significantly different results.  The cash flow projections embedded in our goodwill impairment reviews can be affected by several factors such as inflation, business valuations in the market, the economy, market competition and our ability to successfully integrate recently acquired businesses.

Multi-Employer Pension Plans

We contribute to various multi-employer pension plans based on obligations arising from collective bargaining agreements.  These multi-employer pension plans provide retirement benefits to participants based on their service to contributing employers.  The benefits are paid from assets held in trust for that purpose.  Trustees are appointed in equal number by employers and unions.  The trustees typically are responsible for determining the level of benefits to be provided to participants as well as for such matters as the investment of the assets and the administration of the plans.

We recognize expense in connection with these plans as contributions are funded or when commitments are probable and reasonably estimable, in accordance with GAAP.  We made cash contributions to these plans of $1.1 billion in 2021, $619 million in 2020 and $461 million in 2019. The increase in 2021, compared to 2020, is due to the contractual payments we made in 2021 related to our commitments established for certain ratification agreements. The increase in 2020, compared to 2019, is due to incremental contributions we made in 2020 to multi-employer pension plans, helping stabilize future associate benefits.

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We continue to evaluate and address our potential exposure to under-funded multi-employer pension plans as it relates to our associates who are beneficiaries of these plans.  These under-fundings are not our liability. When an opportunity arises that is economically feasible and beneficial to us and our associates, we may negotiate the restructuring of under-funded multi-employer pension plan obligations to help stabilize associates’ future benefits and become the fiduciary of the restructured multi-employer pension plan.  The commitments from these restructurings do not change our debt profile as it relates to our credit rating since these off-balance sheet commitments are typically considered in our investment grade debt rating. We are currently designated as the named fiduciary of the UFCW Consolidated Pension Plan and the International Brotherhood of Teamsters (“IBT”) Consolidated Pension Fund and have sole investment authority over these assets. Significant effects of these restructuring agreements recorded in our Consolidated Financial Statements are:

In 2021, we incurred a $449 million charge, $344 million net of tax, for obligations related to withdrawal liabilities for a certain multi-employer pension fund.

In 2020, we incurred a $989 million charge, $754 million net of tax, for commitments to certain multi-employer pension funds.

In 2019, we incurred a $135 million charge, $104 million net of tax, for obligations related to withdrawal liabilities for certain multi-employer pension funds.

As we continue to work to find solutions to under-funded multi-employer pension plans, it is possible we could incur withdrawal liabilities for certain funds.

Based on the most recent information available to us, we believe the present value of actuarially accrued liabilities in most of these multi-employer plans exceeds the value of the assets held in trust to pay benefits, and we expect that our contributions to most of these funds will increase over the next few years. We have attempted to estimate the amount by which these liabilities exceed the assets, (i.e., the amount of underfunding), as of December 31, 2021.  Because we are only one of a number of employers contributing to these plans, we also have attempted to estimate the ratio of our contributions to the total of all contributions to these plans in a year as a way of assessing our “share” of the underfunding.  Nonetheless, the underfunding is not a direct obligation or liability of ours or of any employer.

As of December 31, 2021, we estimate our share of the underfunding of multi-employer pension plans to which we contribute was approximately $1.1 billion, $850 million net of tax.  This represents a decrease in the estimated amount of underfunding of approximately $600 million, $450 million net of tax, as of December 31, 2021, compared to December 31, 2020.  The decrease in the amount of underfunding is primarily attributable to higher expected returns on assets in the funds during 2021 and the restructuring of the Sound Retirement Trust, helping stabilize future associate benefits. Our estimate is based on the most current information available to us including actuarial evaluations and other data (that include the estimates of others), and such information may be outdated or otherwise unreliable.

We have made and disclosed this estimate not because, except as noted above, this underfunding is a direct liability of ours.  Rather, we believe the underfunding is likely to have important consequences. In the event we were to exit certain markets or otherwise cease making contributions to these plans, we could trigger a substantial withdrawal liability. Any adjustment for withdrawal liability will be recorded when it is probable that a liability exists and can be reasonably estimated, in accordance with GAAP.

The amount of underfunding described above is an estimate and could change based on contract negotiations, returns on the assets held in the multi-employer pension plans, benefit payments or future restructuring agreements. The amount could decline, and our future expense would be favorably affected, if the values of the assets held in the trust significantly increase or if further changes occur through collective bargaining, trustee action or favorable legislation.  On the other hand, our share of the underfunding could increase and our future expense could be adversely affected if the asset values decline, if employers currently contributing to these funds cease participation or if changes occur through collective bargaining, trustee action or adverse legislation. We continue to evaluate our potential exposure to under-funded multi-employer pension plans. Although these liabilities are not a direct obligation or liability of ours, any commitments to fund certain multi-employer pension plans will be expensed when our commitment is probable and an estimate can be made.

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See Note 15 to the Consolidated Financial Statements for more information relating to our participation in these multi-employer pension plans.

NEW ACCOUNTING STANDARDS

Refer to Note 17 and Note 18 to the Consolidated Financial Statements for recently adopted accounting standards and recently issued accounting standards not yet adopted as of January 29, 2022.

LIQUIDITY AND CAPITAL RESOURCES

Cash Flow Information

The following table summarizes our net increase in cash and temporary cash investments for 2021 and 2020:

    

2021

    

2020

Net cash provided by (used in)

Operating activities

$

6,190

$

6,815

Investing activities

(2,611)

(2,814)

Financing activities

(3,445)

(2,713)

Net increase in cash and temporary cash investments

$

134

$

1,288

Net cash provided by operating activities

We generated $6.2 billion of cash from operations in 2021, compared to $6.8 billion in 2020. Net earnings including noncontrolling interests, adjusted for non-cash items, generated approximately $6.4 billion of operating cash flow in 2021 compared to $5.2 billion in 2020. Cash provided (used) by operating activities for changes in operating assets and liabilities, including working capital, was ($229) million in 2021 compared to $1.6 billion in 2020. The decrease in cash provided by operating activities for changes in operating assets and liabilities, including working capital, was primarily due to the following:

A decrease in the current portion of our commitments due to the National Fund as a result of a contractual payment; and

An increase in long-term liabilities at the end of 2020, primarily due to an increase in the noncurrent portion of the deferral of the employer portion of social security tax payments as a result of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (the “CARES Act”) which was enacted in the first quarter of 2020;

Partially offset by a decrease in prepaid and other current assets due to the transfer of prepaid escrow funds to fulfill obligations related to the restructuring of multi-employer pension plans.

Cash paid for taxes decreased in 2021, compared to 2020, primarily due to lower taxable income in 2021, compared to 2020.

Net cash used by investing activities

Investing activities used cash of $2.6 billion in 2021, compared to $2.8 billion in 2020. The amount of cash used by investing activities decreased in 2021, compared to 2020, primarily due to decreased payments for property and equipment in 2021 due to timing of payments.

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Net cash used by financing activities

We used $3.4 billion of cash for financing activities in 2021, compared to $2.7 billion in 2020. The amount of cash used for financing activities increased in 2021, compared to 2020, primarily due to the following:

Decreased proceeds from issuance of long-term debt;

Increased payments on long-term debt including obligations under finance leases; and

Increased treasury stock purchases;

Partially offset by decreased net payments on commercial paper; and

Increased proceeds from financing arrangement.

Capital Investments

Capital investments, including changes in construction-in-progress payables and excluding the purchase of leased facilities, totaled $3.2 billion in 2021 and 2020. Capital investments for the purchase of leased facilities totaled $58 million in 2020. We did not purchase any leased facilities in 2021. Our capital priorities align directly with our value creation model and our target to consistently grow net earnings. Our capital program includes initiatives to enhance the customer experience in stores, improve our process efficiency and enhance our digital capabilities through technology developments. As such, we increased our allocation of capital investments related to digital and technology compared to prior years. These investments are expected to drive digital sales growth and improve operating efficiency by removing cost and waste from our business.

The table below shows our supermarket storing activity and our total supermarket square footage for 2021, 2020 and 2019:

Supermarket Storing Activity

    

2021

    

2020

    

2019

 

Beginning of year

 

2,742

 

2,757

 

2,764

Opened

 

4

 

5

 

10

Opened (relocation)

 

4

 

6

 

9

Acquired

 

 

 

6

Closed (operational)

 

(20)

 

(20)

 

(19)

Closed (relocation)

 

(4)

 

(6)

 

(13)

End of year

 

2,726

 

2,742

 

2,757

Total supermarket square footage (in millions)

 

179

 

179

 

180

Debt Management

Total debt, including both the current and long-term portions of obligations under finance leases, decreased $49 million to $13.4 billion as of year-end 2021 compared to 2020. The decrease in 2021, compared to 2020, resulted from the payments of $300 million of senior notes bearing an interest rate of 2.60%, $500 million of senior notes bearing an interest rate of 2.95% and $500 million of senior notes bearing an interest rate of 3.40%, partially offset by an increase in debt primarily from the completion of a property transaction and a net increase in obligations under finance leases of $616 million primarily related to our three Kroger Delivery customer fulfillment center openings. We purchased and then immediately sold a portfolio of 28 of our existing stores, allowing us to secure long-term access to these locations at favorable lease rates. The structure used to complete this transaction requires our liability to be shown as debt.

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Common Share Repurchase Programs

We maintain share repurchase programs that comply with Rule 10b5-1 of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 and allow for the orderly repurchase of our common shares, from time to time.  The share repurchase programs do not have an expiration date but may be suspended or terminated by our Board of Directors at any time. We made open market purchases of our common shares totaling $1.4 billion in 2021 and $1.2 billion in 2020.

In addition to these repurchase programs, we also repurchase common shares to reduce dilution resulting from our employee stock option plans.  This program is solely funded by proceeds from stock option exercises, and the tax benefit from these exercises.  We repurchased approximately $225 million in 2021 and $128 million in 2020 of our common shares under the stock option program.

On September 11, 2020, our Board of Directors approved a $1.0 billion share repurchase program to reacquire shares via open market purchase or privately negotiated transactions, block trades, or pursuant to trades intending to comply with Rule 10b5-1 under the Securities Exchange Act of 1934, as amended (the “September 2020 Repurchase Program”). The September 2020 Repurchase Program was exhausted on June 11, 2021. On June 16, 2021, our Board of Directors approved a $1.0 billion share repurchase program to reacquire shares via open market purchase or privately negotiated transactions, block trades, or pursuant to trades intending to comply with Rule 10b5-1 under the Securities Exchange Act of 1934, as amended (the “June 2021 Repurchase Program”). On December 30, 2021, our Board of Directors approved a $1.0 billion share repurchase program to reacquire shares via open market purchase or privately negotiated transactions, block trades, or pursuant to trades intending to comply with Rule 10b5-1 under the Securities Exchange Act of 1934, as amended (the “December 2021 Repurchase Program”). The December 2021 Repurchase Program authorization replaced the existing June 2021 Repurchase Program.

The shares repurchased in 2021 were reacquired under the following share repurchase programs:

The September 2020 Repurchase Program.

The June 2021 Repurchase Program.

The December 2021 Repurchase Program.

A program announced on December 6, 1999 to repurchase common shares to reduce dilution resulting from our employee stock option and long-term incentive plans, under which repurchases are limited to proceeds received from exercises of stock options and the tax benefits associated therewith (“1999 Repurchase Program”).

As of January 29, 2022, there was $821 million remaining under the December 2021 Repurchase Program.

During the first quarter through March 23, 2022, we repurchased an additional $92 million of our common shares under the stock option program and $287 million additional shares under the December 2021 Repurchase Program. As of March 23, 2022, we have $534 million remaining under the December 2021 Repurchase Program.

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Dividends

The following table provides dividend information for 2021 and 2020 ($ in millions, except per share amounts):

2021

2020

Cash dividends paid

$

589

$

534

Cash dividends paid per common share

$

0.78

$

0.68

Liquidity Needs

We held cash and temporary cash investments of $1.8 billion, as of the end of 2021, which reflects our elevated operating performance and significant improvements in working capital. We actively manage our cash and temporary cash investments in order to internally fund operating activities, support and invest in our core businesses, make scheduled interest and principal payments on our borrowings and return cash to shareholders through cash dividend payments and share repurchases. Our current levels of cash, borrowing capacity and balance sheet leverage provide us with the operatio