BRUSSELS — Shares of Delhaize here plunged 8.6% in European trading on Friday after the company said its sales and profit growth would be weaker than expected this year. “In the U.S. as well as in our European markets, consumers are changing their spending behavior as a result of higher oil and food prices and the continued problems in the financial and real estate markets,” the company said. “They are trading down and purchasing fewer items per visit.” The company projected operating profit growth of 0% to 3% for the year, vs. previous projections of 6% to 8% growth. Revenues are expected to grow 3% to 4.5%, vs. previous projections of 4% to 5.5%; and comparable-store sales in the U.S. are now seen up 1.5% to 2.5%, compared with the 2.5% to 3.5% previously forecast. For the second quarter, which the company expects to report in two weeks, Delhaize expects profits to be down 12.3% to $307.7 million, on a 2.6% increase in revenues, to $7.1 billion, both at identical exchange rates. U.S. comps are seen growing at 1%, or 1.9% when adjusted for the early Easter this year.
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