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S Group’s supermarket trade continues to grow, with summer staycations easing the plight of hotels in particular

In January–June 2021, the effect of the extended coronavirus crisis on the S Group remained the same as before. Supermarket trade increased and made a good profit, but hotels and restaurants continued to struggle. The situation improved temporarily in July and August, when domestic tourism was very busy in many parts of Finland.


S Group’s operating result (FAS) for January–June 2021 was EUR 45 million It increased slightly from EUR 35 million in the same period last year. SOK Corporation’s operating loss (IFRS) was EUR 6 million, down from an operating profit of EUR 1 million in the previous year. The whole S Group’s retail sales before taxes increased by 5.2% to just under EUR 5.9 billion in the first half of the year.

“Our supermarket sales have been growing throughout the coronavirus crisis. Last year, the impact of the coronavirus pushed our sales up sharply, but we believe this year’s growth will be the result of our own actions. The strong growth of our supermarket business has also improved the performance of S Group as a whole. By contrast, hotels in particular have dragged down the results of SOK Corporation,” says Hannu Krook, CEO of SOK.

S Group’s grocery trade grew slightly more than the rest of the market in the first half of the year. The entire supermarket network has been revamped with broader Prisma product selections, a comprehensive renewal of the S-market chain and now the impending overhaul of the Sale chain.

Prisma has been one of the success stories in the consumer goods sector during the coronavirus pandemic. The soaring sales of various seasonal hobby equipment have been noteworthy. Winter came even to the south of the country at the beginning of the year and emptied the shops of skis and other winter sports equipment, and when spring came, the same happened for bicycles, etc. Sports and camping equipment has also constantly been selling well.

“Our online shops are also still going strong. Our online grocery sales have expanded geographically with increasing coverage across Finland, and we have also achieved growth that exceeds market growth. We will continue to develop our online stores for both groceries and consumer goods. We want to achieve a position in these businesses that is comparable to our size in general.

Staycations provided relief to ABC stations, restaurants and hotels

The early part of the year was challenging for ABC service stations due to restrictions on the restaurant trade. However, Finns started to travel again as the year went on. In the summer, domestic tourism and good weather increased car travel, which was busier than in the previous summer. The 2019 level had already been exceeded in July. At ABC stations, this was reflected in higher fuel sales and significantly better sales at restaurants and grocery stores than in the previous summer. The sales of the whole chain grew by 20–30% on the previous year in June–July.

Hotels and restaurants had a difficult start to the year until June, when sales started to increase in both restaurants and hotels as restrictions were eased and the weather improved. Although overall business growth in June was more than 60% higher than the previous year, sales were still well below 2019 levels.

July brought clear relief for hotels especially. After a good July last year, sales were up by more than 35%. In popular destinations such as Sokos Hotel Koli, occupancy rates were practically 100% throughout July, and in hotels in Tampere and Turku, for example, the occupancy rate was almost 100%. The 2019 sales were exceeded in a large number of hotels. The situation in the Helsinki metropolitan area remains challenging, although occupancy rates reached almost 70% in July, which is twice as high as last year.

S Group remains confident about the future of hotels and restaurants, even though the outlook for the rest of the year is difficult to predict due to the fourth wave of the coronavirus and another tightening of restrictions. If sufficient vaccine coverage is not achieved early enough, S Group will advocate the rapid adoption of the coronavirus passport, which would allow restaurants to safely give up restrictions. This would ensure a busy end of year and Christmas season for the sector.

S Group has renovated dozens of restaurants every year, and its hotel renovation programme has been extensive in recent years. Currently, the legendary Solo Sokos Hotel Torni in Helsinki and Original Sokos Hotel Ilves in Tampere are closed for renovations.

“It’s really important to remember that before the coronavirus pandemic tourism was the third largest service export sector in Finland, with an export value of around EUR 5 billion in 2019. We have confidence in the bright future of Finnish tourism, but it will also require attention from policymakers: Finland needs a tourism strategy to achieve the very significant potential of tourism exports,” Hannu Krook points out.

S Group and SOK Corporation’s key figures for January–June 2021 

S Group as a whole (cooperatives + SOK Corporation), January–June 2021: 

  • Retail sales before taxes totalled EUR 5,889 million (EUR 5,595 million). 

  • The operating result was EUR 45 million (EUR 35 million).

  • Investments totalled EUR 311 million (EUR 257 million). 

  • At the end of June, there were 2,449,705 co-op members (2,433,136). 

  • Bonuses paid totalled EUR 182 million (EUR 169 million).

  • The number of active employment contracts was 43,671 (42,598*) at the end of June. 

  • The total number of outlets at the end of June was 1,870 (1848).

SOK Corporation (SOK + subsidiaries), January–June 2020:

  • Net sales (IFRS) were EUR 3,774 (3,721) million. 

  • The operating result (IFRS) was EUR -6 million (EUR 1 million). 

  • Investments totalled EUR 18 million (EUR 32 million). 

  • At the end of June, the number of personnel was 6,297 (6,725). 

Photos: Nico Backström

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