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    Couche-Tard Revenue Tops $3 Billion in Q4

    Company's full year results also show growth; Mac's adopts new tobacco carding program.

    LAVAL, Quebec -- Convenience store operator Alimentation Couche-Tard Inc. released its fourth quarter results for fiscal 2007, which found the company's fourth quarter revenues totaled $3 billion, an increase of $333.7 million, or 12.6 percent, compared to the fourth quarter of fiscal 2006. In addition, net earnings for the quarter ended April 29, were $33.4 million, a 4.1 percent increase, the company stated.

    However, year-over-year comparisons are skewed as 13 weeks occur in the fourth quarter of 2006, while standardized periods are 12 weeks long. Comparing the results on a 12-week scale, revenues grew 22.9 percent and net earnings 13.6 percent, the company stated.

    "We are very satisfied with our progress achieved on many fronts this year," Alain Bouchard, chairman, president and CEO of Couche-Tard, said in a written statement. "Particularly on the development side with the addition of 506 company-operated stores, far exceeding our expectations in a much more competitive acquisitions environment. Also, we completed 413 more of our successful IMPACT store conversions. Altogether, we invested close to $1 billion to foster future earnings growth."

    So far, the IMPACT program has been implemented in 51.2 percent of the company-operated stores, the company stated.

    For the fiscal year, the company saw total revenues of $12.1 billion, an increase of $1.9 billion, or 19 percent compared to 2006. Net earnings for fiscal 2007 totaled $196.4 million, compared with $196.2 million in 2006.

    Commenting on the fiscal year's performance, Bouchard said: "The motor fuel business was particularly volatile and competitive and that hurt our sales in the U.S."

    The company also gave an outlook for the upcoming fiscal year. The company will deploy the IMPACT program in 400 stores, as well as construct approximately 60 new stores, which is expected to cost $300 million, available through net cash provided by operating activities, said Bouchard.

    In terms of acquisitions, the company plans to purchase approximately 250 stores. The company will also focus resources on fresh products and innovation, to satisfy the needs of its growing clientele, he added.

    In other Couche-Tard news, the company selected 150 Mac's stores in Ontario to trial mandatory identification checks for every customer buying cigarettes, as part of a program to prevent the accidental sale of tobacco to minors, the Kingston Whig-Standard reported.

    While some customers dislike the inconvenience, they agree with the program's purpose.

    "If it's stopping young people from getting cigarettes then it's OK, but I don't think it's the way to go," Donna Parker, 56, told the paper. "I think public education is the much better way to go."

    Mac's regional director, Bruce Watson, initiated the trial program in a quarter of its Ontario stores eight months ago, the paper reported.

    "In our research, we've found that it's very difficult to judge age," he told the paper, noting that despite a comprehensive training program, including practicing identifying the ages of people ages 16 to 35 in photographs, it's impossible to be absolutely sure of a customer's age.

    "Some people are just offended at being asked to prove their age, but we realize that and that's why we're doing this on an experimental basis," Watson said. "We think that the overall good, the overall gain, is worthwhile."

    According to a recent survey by Statistics Canada, the percentage of teenagers who smoke daily or occasionally dropped from 18 to 15 percent for the first time in three years, the report stated.

    Watson told the paper he would like to see the Mac's program put into place in Ontario and eventually across Canada. The chain will determine over the next few months whether or not the program will continue, the report stated.

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