Casey's General Stores Inc (CASY) Q4 2019 Earnings Call Transcript

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Casey's General Stores Inc (NASDAQ: CASY)Q4 2019 Earnings CallJun 11, 2019, 10:30 a.m. ET

Contents:

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  • Prepared Remarks
  • Questions and Answers
  • Call Participants

Prepared Remarks:

Operator

Good day, ladies and gentlemen, and welcome to the Q4 FY 2019 Casey's General Stores Earnings Conference Call. At this time, all participants are in a listen-only mode. Later, we will conduct a question-and-answer session and instructions will follow at that time. (Operator Instructions) As a reminder, this conference is being recorded.

I would now like to introduce your host for today's conference, Bill Walljasper, Chief Financial Officer. You may begin.

William J. Walljasper -- Senior Vice President and Chief Financial Officer

Good morning, and thank you for joining us to discuss Casey's results for the quarter ended April 30th. I'm Bill Walljasper, Chief Financial Officer. Terry Hanley, President and Chief Executive Officer, is also here.

Before we begin, I'll remind you that certain statements made by us during this investor call may constitute forward-looking statements within the meaning of the Private Securities Litigation Reform Act of 1995. These forward-looking statements include any statements related to our possible or assumed future results of operations, business strategies, growth opportunities, and performance improvements at our stores.

There are a number of known and unknown risks, uncertainties, and other factors that may cause our actual results to differ materially from any future results expressed or implied by those forward-looking statements, including our ability to execute on the value creation plan or to realize benefits from that value creation plan, as well as other risks, uncertainties, and factors which are described in our most recent annual report on Form 10-K and quarterly reports on Form 10-Q, as filed with the SEC and available on our website.

Any forward-looking statements made during this call reflect our current views as of today with respect to future events and Casey's disclaims any intention or obligation to update or revise forward-looking statements, whether as a result of new information, future events, or otherwise.

I would now like to turn the call over to Terry.

Terry W. Handley -- President and Chief Executive Officer

Thank you, Bill, and good morning, everyone. Before we summarize our fourth quarter results and outlook for fiscal 2020, I wanted to take a brief moment to comment on the announcement we made last week about my upcoming retirement. As I reflect on my nearly four decades with Casey's, I'm incredibly proud of what our team has accomplished and I'm confident that the business is well positioned for continued success. This is the right time for me to retire and I have absolute confidence in my successor, Darren Rebelez. I know Darren personally and I'm familiar with his tremendous leadership experience in the convenience store, fuel and restaurant industries, most recently as the President of IHOP. I look forward to seeing where he takes this great company in the years ahead.

As this will be my last earnings call, I want to thank all of you for your keen interest in our company. It has been a pleasure getting to know all of you over the years. I know you will welcome Darren, when he officially starts later this month. Now let's move on to our results for the quarter and fiscal 2019, as well as our outlook for fiscal 2020.

As most of you have seen in the press release diluted earnings per share for the fourth quarter were up 33% to $0.68 compared to $0.51 a year ago, and up over 44% for the year to $5.51, excluding the one-time benefit from tax reform a year ago. The results were primarily driven by effective control and operating expenses and margin expansion across all of our categories compared to the last fiscal year. We continue to make excellent progress toward the execution of the various components in the value creation plan and remain optimistic about the opportunities in the upcoming fiscal year. I would now like to summarize our results and some of the details in each of the categories.

During the fourth quarter in the fuel category, we experienced rising wholesale costs which put pressure on our margin. However, we were pleased with the way that retail fuels and store operations teams managed through this environment to optimize gross profit dollars. As a result, we were able to achieve an average fuel margin of $0.186 per gallon for the fourth quarter and drove fuel gross profit dollars up over 17% compared to the same period a year ago. Same-store gallons sold in the quarter were down 2.8%, the same-store gallon decline was primarily related to our optimization efforts and previously described -- as previously described and softer demand as retail fuel prices rose from the third quarter and vehicle miles traveled in the Midwest has declined.

The average retail fuel price during the quarter was $2.46 per gallon. Despite the decline in same-store gallons, total gallons sold for the quarter were up 2.6% to $546 million primarily due to a strong contribution from new stores opened in the last 12 months. Same-store gallons sold year-to-date were down 1.7% with an average margin of $0.203 per gallon resulting in an increase in fuel gross profit dollars for the year of 14.6% to $466.1 million. Same-store gallons sold in May was in line with our expectations, but was below our annual guidance as we compared against a very strong month from a year ago, in adverse weather across our -- most of our marketing territory. The average fuel margin in May is within our current annual range.

In the Grocery and Other Merchandise category, total sales were up nearly 10% to $562.7 million in the fourth quarter. Same-store sales were strong up 5.7% during the same period with an average margin of 31.5%, up 30 basis points from a year ago in the same period. For the fiscal year. same-store sales were up 3.6% with an average margin of 32.1%, a 30 basis points from the prior year. The strong movement in same-store sales during the quarter was driven by significant gains late in the quarter from packaged beverage and beer in part due to improved weather as well as continued strength in other tobacco products. The margin increased for the quarter and the year was up primarily due to a product mix shifts toward higher margin items across the Grocery and Other Merchandise category as well as promotion optimization.

Gross profit dollars for the quarter in the category were up nearly 11% to $177.2 million. For the year, gross profit dollars are up 9.6% to $759.8 million. Same-store sales in May are below our current annual guidance due to the previously mentioned weather in our market.

In the Prepared Food and Fountain category, total sales were up 5.4% to over $254 million for the fourth quarter. Same-store sales accelerated from the third quarter up 2%. The average margin for the fourth quarter was 62.2%, up 250 basis points from the same quarter last year, primarily due to strategic price increases taken earlier in the year, favorable commodity prices and a product mix shift.

As a result of the increased sales and margin expansion in the quarter, prepared food gross profit dollars were up nearly 10% to $158.1 million. For the year, total sales were up 6.8% to $1.1 billion. Same-store sales increased 1.9% with an average margin 62.2%, up 120 basis points from last fiscal year. Same-store sales in May are below our current annual guidance range. We made great strides this year in controlling operating expenses. For the quarter, total operating expenses were up 9.6% to $346.2 million. The increase in operating expenses mainly driven by operating 73 more stores this quarter compared to a year ago, cycling or the reduction in 24 hour and pizza delivery formats, increasing technology spend and an increased incentive compensation from a year ago due to the performance of the company.

Same-store operating expenses excluding credit card fees were down 1.1% in the quarter. These results were driven by a decrease in labor hours as we better align our labor schedules to meet customer demand. Year-to-date total operating expenses are up 8.4%. Managing operating expense growth will continue to be an area of focus in fiscal 2020.

I would now like to turn the call over to Bill, to discuss the financial status.

William J. Walljasper -- Senior Vice President and Chief Financial Officer

Thanks, Terry. On the income statement, total revenue in the quarter was up slightly to $2.2 billion, primarily due to an increase in the number of stores in operation compared to the same period a year ago as well as the sales increase as mentioned previously.

Depreciation in the quarter was up 9.5% primarily due to capital expenditures for growth over the past 12 months. The effective tax rate for the quarter was 14.8%. The decrease in the effective tax rate from the third quarter was primarily due to an increase in federal tax credits from a year ago. We expect our effective tax rate for fiscal 2020 to be between 24.5% and 25.5%. Our balance sheet continues to be strong. At April 30th, cash and cash equivalents were $63.3 million. Long term debt net of current maturities was $1.3 billion, our trailing 12-month debt to EBITDA ratio is at 2.4 times as the recent new store openings and previously mentioned operational improvements at our existing stores contributed to growth in EBITDA.

For the fiscal year, we generated $550 million in cash flow from operations compared to $420 million during the same period last year. Capital expenditure for $482 million compared to $615 million a year ago in the same period. Adjusted EBITDA grew 19% in the quarter and is up nearly 16% year-to-date. We will discuss our plans for fiscal 2020 capital allocation later in the summary.

I'd now like to turn the call back over to Terry to update you on the progress with our value creation plan and outlook for fiscal 2020.

Terry W. Handley -- President and Chief Executive Officer

Thank you, Bill. For this fiscal year, we opened 56 new stores and acquired 24 additional stores. In addition, we replaced eight stores and have eight acquisition stores under agreement to purchase. Currently we have 81 stores in our pipeline including 41 under construction, which puts us off to a great start for achieving our unit growth goals for the new fiscal year.

I would now like to provide an update regarding the value creation plan. As a reminder, the multiyear long term plan is comprised of several key programs and value drivers including a new fleet card program, retail price optimization, a new suite of digital platforms for our customers as well as the continued focus on controlling operating expenses and capital allocation. When we first introduced the value creation plan in March 2018, our goal was to create a plan designed to deliver significant long term growth, demonstrated by increased earnings per share, EBITDA, return on invested capital and free cash flow. As we witnessed the continued evolution of the retail landscape an ever changing consumer habits, we must continue to adapt and broaden the number of performance drivers beyond just same-store sales alone.

A more balanced approach must include margin expansion and expense management through process improvements, focused on increasing gross profit dollars to deliver a strong annual growth rate and earnings per share and EBITDA, while increasing after tax return on invested capital. Based on the results of fiscal 2019, which reflected a 44% increase in earnings per share, a 19% increase in EBITDA and an after tax return on invested capital over 9%, we are well on our way to delivering on these expectations.

With this in mind, I would like to share with you some of the key milestones that we have completed over the course of the last quarter. I will begin with the fleet card program. We launched the new program in late October, early results show that we are on target with adding new accounts and cardholders. We currently have over 1,300 new accounts with approximately 7,200 new cards issued. Even though the utilization of these cards ramped up slower than we expected shortly after we launched, it is beginning to gain momentum as we focused additional resources around the program.

We continue to engage universal card providers as part of the overall approach to our fleet card strategy. The total fleet gallons have grown over 9% in fiscal 2019, compared to a year ago. We remain optimistic about the potential of the overall fleet program going forward. Price optimization is another key program in our value creation plan. This will allow us to leverage the sales data generated by our broad network of stores combined with market data to make centralized rules-based pricing decisions at the pump and in the store which we anticipate will improve gross profit dollars across all categories throughout our network. During the fourth quarter, we completed the implementation of price advantage to all of our stores. This fuel price optimization tool will provide us with greater agility in adjusting retail prices in response to the ever changing fuel environment.

Centralized retail pricing changes will be available by the end of the fiscal year as we build out this new tool. Price advantage will also provide the ability to monitor merchandise sales at each store to identify any potential impact to inside sales that may be correlated to retail fuel price movements. As we have mentioned before, we are utilizing Dunnhumby as our price optimization platform inside our stores. We completed a successful testing in Q4 and we will begin a scheduled roll-out of this program starting this month and through September. Price optimization represents a fundamental shift in our marketing processes for both fuel and in-store purchases, supported by increased visibility into our pricing and promotion strategy. We are excited about the benefit these programs will bring to the company.

We continue to progress with our digital engagement program and have reached several key milestones over the last quarter. We have successfully completed the integration of our new e-commerce website. This platform provides an enhanced customer experience by streamlining the ordering and checkout process and allowing the customer to pay online. In addition, the system automatically engages cross-sell opportunities to the consumer during every order. We have completed the design and testing of the new mobile app and are planning to roll-out this new capability in Q1 of fiscal '20.

The loyalty program is planned to be launched in Q2 of fiscal '20. The integration of the new suite of digital platforms for customers will create a seamless customer experience both online and in-store that enhances our digital capabilities and facilitates personalized marketing and rewards. This digital platform will allow us to gain a better understanding of our customers and better serve them by providing value and target effective promotions that increase our average basket ring and drive additional customer visits.

Our capital allocation strategy will continue to prioritize investments with attractive return profiles including our value creation programs as well as discipline store growth through new store construction and strategic acquisition opportunities.

At this time, I would like to share with you our fiscal 2020 guidance and capital expenditure budget. Increase same-store gallons sold down 0.5% of 1% to up 1% with an average margin of $0.205 to 0.225 per gallon. Increase same-store grocery and other merchandise sales 2.5% to 4% with an average margin between 32% and 33%. Increase same-store prepared food and fountains sales 3% to 6% with an average margin between 61% and 63%. Maintain operating expenses to an increase between 7% and 9%, excluding expenses from the value creation plan. Depreciation to increase 11% to 13%. Build 60 stores and acquire 25 stores.

The capital expenditure budget for fiscal 2020 breaks down in the following categories; new store construction and acquisitions, $294 million; replacement stores, $59 million; transportation and distribution, $43 million; information technology, $29 million; general maintenance, $91 million. Included in the budget is approximately $22 million for the new distribution center and $17 million for an addition to the corporate office for a total capital expenditure budget of $516 million in fiscal 2020.

In closing, we continue to take transformational steps to enhance store performance and deliver long term profitable growth. We will continue to review and add skill set to successfully execute on our strategy to drive significant long term shareholder value.

We will now take your questions.

Questions and Answers:

Operator

(Operator Instructions) And our first question is from Karen Short from Barclays. Your line is now open.

Karen Short -- Barclays Capital -- Analyst

Hi. Thanks so much. Terry, congrats...

Terry W. Handley -- President and Chief Executive Officer

Hi, Karen.

Karen Short -- Barclays Capital -- Analyst

And good luck, we'll miss you.

Terry W. Handley -- President and Chief Executive Officer

Yeah. Thank you.

Karen Short -- Barclays Capital -- Analyst

Just a couple of questions. Obviously, you still have this value creation plan in place. I don't know whether or not Darren has actually gotten into the weaves of that, but maybe you could talk a little bit about where his spots might be on endorsing the goals? And I realize as you said in the call that there are moving parts to that in terms of focusing a little more on profit dollars versus sales. But any context you can give there would be great?

Terry W. Handley -- President and Chief Executive Officer

Yeah, Karen, I can't speak for Darren specifically in terms of his assessment of the value creation plan. I'm confident in the fact that he will assess where the programs are going in the future and certainly he is a very experienced retailer and will certainly take into consideration all that's been done to-date and also bring his unique experiences and leadership style to the opportunity as well as just driving the company forward.

Karen Short -- Barclays Capital -- Analyst

And then Terry, maybe you could just comment a little bit on obviously the timing is right -- and we're kind of right in the middle of the value creation plan. So any thoughts on why now is the right time to leave after such a great career at Casey would be great?

Terry W. Handley -- President and Chief Executive Officer

Yeah, sure. I mean in terms of the timing with regards to the value creation plan that really wasn't necessarily in my mind, Karen. This is something that I have been working with the Board for approximately a year and certainly within the last six months a more strategic process in terms of finding that successor. Certainly for me after 38.5 years being here with Casey's literally serving with the company for my entire adult life. We've got a lot of passion for this company. But I also owe a lot to my family. So it's time for me to put them first. I've got a lot of payback in that regard and that is certainly going to be my priority going forward. But Casey's will always be at the forefront of my mind and I will do whatever I can to support Darren. He's an outstanding individual with a great deal of integrity and quite frankly, I can't think of a better individual for Casey's as the leader going forward. And I will do whatever I can to support him.

Karen Short -- Barclays Capital -- Analyst

Great. That's helpful. And then Bill, just a couple of questions. When looking at our OpEx for 2020, can you maybe just give a little bit of color on how to think about the cadence of the growth throughout '20? And I would ask the same question regarding D&A? And then last housekeeping is just what credit card fees were in the quarter?

William J. Walljasper -- Senior Vice President and Chief Financial Officer

Yeah, absolutely. Just first of all credit card fees were $33.6 million in the quarter. With respect to operating expense, I'm going to probably broaden your question talk about Q4 and then take that into the fiscal '20 question you specifically had. Q4 obviously was up a little higher than what we were trending at sequentially in the last several quarters coming in a 9.6%. There were several things in the fourth quarter that transpired. First of all, we are lapsing the 24-hour pizza delivery format changes we did a year ago. Also incentive compensation as the company performs, we certainly have an opportunity to have incentive compensation to the several people within the company. In comparison to fiscal 2018, there were no bonuses paid out and the combination of those two factors were roughly about 1% to 1.5% of that 9.6%. So obviously, as we look at our guidance that 7% to 9% that does include fees related to the value -- our expenses related to the value creation plan. We certainly believe that the run rate is lower than that fourth quarter result. So with respect to operating expenses going forward, we -- obviously, we're very optimistic that we can continue to control labor hours. We have several things that are being kicked off here in the first quarter, probably at the at the forefront is the execution on a time and motion study that will feed into a new labor scheduler at time and motion study will be completed here in the first quarter and then starting to roll-out the -- that scheduler roughly Q2 of this fiscal year.And so what that does for us, Karen, and what we're excited about is it will be a much more automated approach on a store-by-store basis to monitor the performance and sales of that store and adjust labor accordingly to meet the customer demand. So I think that's where we'll have quite a bit of our efficiencies going forward. Obviously, it's going to be a key focus for us in '20 as it was in fiscal '19.

Karen Short -- Barclays Capital -- Analyst

So OpEx will kind of start a little higher and then taper off as we go through the year?

William J. Walljasper -- Senior Vice President and Chief Financial Officer

Yeah, I think that's kind of the intent right now. When you think about OpEx from a high level, you figure somewhere around probably 2.5%, but maybe 3% on a same-store basis. You're going to throw 4% to 5% with the new store growth and a few miscellaneous things in there, and that gets you in that 7% to 9% range, just thinking from a high-level perspective. But you're right on point, though. I think the labor scheduler is something that will benefit us in the back half.

Karen Short -- Barclays Capital -- Analyst

Okay. And then just D&A?

William J. Walljasper -- Senior Vice President and Chief Financial Officer

Yeah, D&A, I mean obviously one of the things in D&A, you saw the D&A kind of moved downward in the last couple of quarters. A function of that is accelerated depreciation from replacement store activity with, a little bit less this year than the prior year. But as far as D&A goes, roughly we're going to have the same number of units that could swing, I will say that depending on acquisition environment. But I think that will be a relatively smooth cadence throughout the fiscal year. As we look at the planned roll-out of our new store construction activity, it should be relatively smooth this fiscal year.

Karen Short -- Barclays Capital -- Analyst

Great, thanks.

William J. Walljasper -- Senior Vice President and Chief Financial Officer

You bet.

Operator

Thank you. Our next question is from Bonnie Herzog from Wells Fargo. Your line is now open.

Bonnie Herzog -- Wells Fargo Securities -- Analyst

All right. Thank you, good morning.

Terry W. Handley -- President and Chief Executive Officer

Good morning, Bonnie.

Bonnie Herzog -- Wells Fargo Securities -- Analyst

Good morning. I first wanted to ask a question on your fuel margin guidance for the year. There's a decent step-up from last year and certainly historically. So just really want to hear from you guys what gives you the confidence that this will be achievable?

Terry W. Handley -- President and Chief Executive Officer

Yeah, Bonnie, this is Terry. I would tell you that the price optimization tool is certainly an element that we are quite confident in and quite -- and honestly, it's the retail fuels team and their partnership with our store operations leadership. If you think back to a year ago, during this call, we were talking about the timing of the retail price optimization tool. And quite frankly, we jumped out ahead of that a little bit in terms of this implementation with the leadership in store operations as well as in retail fuels team and their continued conversation and engagement on calls and utilizing the tools we had at the time in order to facilitate the review of our pricing strategies and the maximization of margin. And as the tool is now just becoming engaged here in Q4, we have set the rules around those different markets. We got a talented retail fuels team utilizing that tool and we've got a store operations leadership team that has embraced the centralization, a pricing strategy versus the decentralization. So I'm quite confident of the fact that we have just begun the opportunity to influence not only on the margin side, but I would tell you in certain markets potentially an increase in volume. But again, that will be market to market driven. And on top of that then would be the fuel procurement. We're building up that fuel procurement team and we are taking a strategy in terms of looking at fuel contracts and how that might assist us in terms of enhancing the margin side of this equation and we certainly believe that in the early days here of this engagement that we're having a positive impact and we continue to believe that, that's going to grow throughout the rest of the fiscal year.

Bonnie Herzog -- Wells Fargo Securities -- Analyst

No. That's really helpful. And so then as you kind of look out into the future, I mean would you -- or do you believe that these margins can continue to expand especially when you just mentioned that you're just in the beginning of implementing some of these initiatives?

Terry W. Handley -- President and Chief Executive Officer

Well, certainly, I think that we will find a more balanced approach to our pricing strategy, which I believe we will find again, opportunities in certain markets where we can expand upon the margin and find that better balance. But I think also, just with regards to the environment itself will influence where margins -- fuel margins go. Again, as we all know and as we've talked about in this call in the past, a lot of retailers are pressured by the rising minimum wage, so labor pressures, credit card fees, depending on what the retail fuel price does. So I can't speak to exactly where this will go, but certainly if you look historically, we've seen rising fuel margins over the last five to 10 years. I don't see any reason why it should go the other direction. And certainly, we're going to be right out in front as we utilize this price optimization tool and with the great leadership that we have in the field as well as our -- as well as with our retail fuels team.

Bonnie Herzog -- Wells Fargo Securities -- Analyst

Okay. And then a question on your fleet card program. You mentioned, again, I think it keeps ramping a little bit slower than you expected. So wondering has this improved even sequentially this quarter versus last and maybe some of the changes that you've been implementing. And just kind of wondering how it's tracking in terms of what you might be seeing in any lift to the fuel volume or maybe more importantly, I guess in-store traffic?

Terry W. Handley -- President and Chief Executive Officer

Yeah. I mean certainly, sequentially, it is moving quarter-to-quarter and you're right, I mean we would have likely to have moved quicker. We anticipated to move quicker, but we see -- we continue to see growth in that regard. The universal fleet card gallons is where we've had a great surprise and that continues to be a solid benefit for us. And with regards to this influence on inside sales, we haven't necessarily seen the expected influence on inside sales just yet. But certainly, as we begin to build out the fleet card program and the cross-sell opportunities in merchandising capabilities, we'll certainly improve.

Bonnie Herzog -- Wells Fargo Securities -- Analyst

Okay. And then if I could ask one final question, just wanted to drill down a little further on the strength in your grocery comps. You mentioned a lot of this was driven by strong packaged beverage and beer as well as OTP. So I was hoping you can drill down just a little further on maybe which categories or segments performed really well? And then love some color on the Memorial Day weekend for you guys specifically and possibly consumer traffic and spending also given the weather. I guess maybe your regions, you had better weather than a lot of us. Thanks.

William J. Walljasper -- Senior Vice President and Chief Financial Officer

All right, Bonnie. This is Bill. I'll try to crack at all those questions. If I miss one of them, just circle back with me if you could and I'll certainly respond accordingly. But with respect to the same-store sales and the growth in general merchandise category in our fourth quarter, yes, they were obviously very robust relative to some prior quarters and so it's a combination of several things. Obviously, we continue to look to have product refinements and promotion activity. But as you know, Bonnie, you've been following our stock for quite some time, in the short term, weather can affect our business. And so looking at the fourth quarter in the month of April, we had a significant increase in same-store sales in the categories that you would expect with favorable weather. We saw in the month of April double-digit same-store sales in the beer category, the packaged beverage category, the underlying grocery category. We're all in that double-digit sales and that's driving the overall comp in the quarter. So with that -- in that regard, as we move into the month of May, our marketing area and we kind of referenced it in the narrative, it was impacted pretty significantly across all of our 16 states by a very wet May. It's one of the wettest May's on record. To put it in perspective, the farming community is behind several weeks in planting their crop and just -- that should be planted by now. And so with that, obviously, the customer traffic moves in a downward direction and then that's part of the commentary that we had. You probably have seen also some of the flooding activity that we've had in our market area. It hasn't necessarily impacted physically the stores, but logistically, getting product to the stores, not only grocery and general merchandise, but significantly fuel, which causes delays, we have some outages, so I wouldn't -- I would certainly anticipate a slight impact in the month of May. But again, that's just one-month as we move forward, and so that, that's what gives us some optimist going forward.

Bonnie Herzog -- Wells Fargo Securities -- Analyst

Okay, that's helpful.

William J. Walljasper -- Senior Vice President and Chief Financial Officer

Yeah, I hope that's helpful.

Bonnie Herzog -- Wells Fargo Securities -- Analyst

Yes, thank you. And then I just want to say, best of luck with everything, Terry.

Terry W. Handley -- President and Chief Executive Officer

Thanks so much, Bonnie, it's been a pleasure.

Bonnie Herzog -- Wells Fargo Securities -- Analyst

Thanks.

Operator

Thank you. Our next question is from Kelly Bania from BMO Capital. Your line is now open.

Kelly Bania -- BMO Capital Markets -- Analyst

Hi, good morning. Thanks for taking my questions.

Terry W. Handley -- President and Chief Executive Officer

Good morning.

Kelly Bania -- BMO Capital Markets -- Analyst

Good morning, Terry, good luck to you.

Terry W. Handley -- President and Chief Executive Officer

Thank you.

Kelly Bania -- BMO Capital Markets -- Analyst

And congratulations. I wanted to just ask a little bit more about the fuel margins and what kind of competitive response you're seeing, if any? Are you kind of still maintaining a similar gap to your competitors? Or is your fuel price optimization efforts widening that fuel margin gap? Or is this -- and is this broadly across your markets? Or is there any specific region where you see more specific opportunity on that front?

Terry W. Handley -- President and Chief Executive Officer

Yeah, Bonnie. This is Terry. I would tell you that in terms of being a broad response from the competition, it's more of on a market-to-market basis. In many cases, over the years with our prior fuel pricing strategy, where we identify the competition within a particular market and we followed them ensuring that we were not going to be undersold in terms of our retail price, that was one of those areas that we realized over time with the density of our stores and the growth of the number of our stores that the reality is we were the market leader and we were most likely holding margin opportunities down and artificially inflating volumes. So this is an opportunity for us to reverse that course and maximize those potentials in terms of margin as well as resulting gross profit dollars to the organization. And certainly, I think within market-to-market situations, the competitors will react differently. In some cases, those particular -- some competitors will look at that and say, OK, they've been fighting us all these years. Now we have an opportunity to maybe make a little more money ourselves, and that's fine. But understand we will continue to monitor the opportunities within a market-to-market basis, store-to-store, town-to-town. And we're here at the end of the day we're trying to drive gross profit dollars back to the organization.

Kelly Bania -- BMO Capital Markets -- Analyst

Okay. That's helpful. And I guess just on comps in the quarter, it just seems like a wide divergence between the grocery and general merchandise performance, and especially it sounds like a strong April and maybe the prepared food comps. And just curious if you saw the same kind of the strength in April. And as you look forward into this upcoming fiscal year, you're really calling for an acceleration in that category. And so maybe just help us understand what's driving that, what's happening underneath within prepared food comps, what's really working and what's not?

William J. Walljasper -- Senior Vice President and Chief Financial Officer

Yeah. I'll be happy. This is Bill, Kelly. So with respect to -- I think you still had a question about the month of April. So any time you -- first of all, any time you have a significant temperature differential on a period-over-period basis, the categories that would be impacted first and foremost, are the ones you probably expect, I mean the packaged beverage and the beer categories. With respect to prepared food specifically in the month of April, we actually had a mid-single-digit comp in that month of April. So we definitely saw an acceleration in that regard. We definitely had positive track in the month of April. So now to your question about the guidance for fiscal '20, is 3% to 6% guidance, obviously, when you start looking at to trying to predict consumer behavior in the future that can be obviously very challenging especially when you are rolling out tools as we speak that we hope to effectuate change in that regard and that's why you have a little bit of a wider delta in the prepared food category than the rest of the categories. Now you've also seen -- you look at the grocery and general merchandise category as well as the fuel category, we have margin spread. And the part of that reason is we have tools out there already that we have confidence in that we have had some success and not only on the fuel side, but we did complete the testing in the grocery and general merchandise side for price optimization and believe that we have the ability to drive margin. It becomes a little bit more challenging to predict where that comp goes, but definitely believe we have that ability to grow the comp in prepared foods. Some of the things that give us that confidence, as you mentioned, we just rolled out the e-commerce platform here in April. And certainly, we believe that's going to give us an opportunity to increase average basket ring. Secondly, as we have -- Terry alluded, the new mobile app gets launched this quarter, a more streamlined approach to ordering as well as another opportunity, another avenue for our consumers to touch base with us in that category. And then right now, we're scheduled or are planning to launch the loyalty program in the second quarter. And so we look at the cadence of prepared food comps over the course of fiscal '20, we anticipate that ramp in sequentially every quarter as we move throughout the year. Hopefully, that helps you out.

Kelly Bania -- BMO Capital Markets -- Analyst

Yeah. Maybe just a follow-up on that. As we think about your comment about basket ring, is that price driven? Or is that mix driven? Or just as we think about that outlook, is that more -- your first three to six comp there, is that more of a traffic or a ticket acceleration that you're expecting?

William J. Walljasper -- Senior Vice President and Chief Financial Officer

Well, it's going to be both. I mean definitely we expect the ticket. One of the things that the e-commerce platform provides is I would say 100% automatic cross-sell opportunity to the consumer. So when you go into that website and order pizza or other products, it will automatically push you that direction. And so we're definitely seeing an uptick in that regard. And so it's going to be a little bit of both, but early on, it will be generated to the average basket ring.

Kelly Bania -- BMO Capital Markets -- Analyst

Okay. And maybe just another one, you mentioned the delayed plantings, the flooding. Maybe just help us understand the state of the kind of economic backdrop, the farm income and your core consumer in your trade area?

William J. Walljasper -- Senior Vice President and Chief Financial Officer

Yeah. Certainly, the farm income, as you know, it's been somewhat down over the last three years. The outlook here for this calendar year, there might be a slight increase in farm income, but there's nothing dramatic that we have seen coming out of reports. Certainly, the weather patterns that we've had early in this calendar year so far have not been conducive for the farmers and their planting. As I mentioned, the farmers are probably a couple of weeks -- two to three weeks behind their planting, and that does factor into their mindset moving forward. So again, that's kind of one of those ever changing consumer habits thing that Terry talked about that we just need to continue to adapt to.

Kelly Bania -- BMO Capital Markets -- Analyst

Thank you.

Terry W. Handley -- President and Chief Executive Officer

Thanks.

Operator

Thank you. Our next question is from Damian Witkowski from G. Research. Your line is now open.

Damian Witkowski -- G. Research. -- Analyst

Terry. It's been a pleasure and all the best.

Terry W. Handley -- President and Chief Executive Officer

Thank you.

Damian Witkowski -- G. Research. -- Analyst

I just had a question on the fuel margin guidance for next year and realize that changes depending on what crude does. But just overall, does it contemplate you sort of losing some market share in the guidance that you provided? And then also, what is it contemplating in terms of value for RINs?

Terry W. Handley -- President and Chief Executive Officer

Well, in terms of the market share, certainly we understand as we change our strategy or identify a renewed strategy in certain markets, there will be potential loss in volume, but we want to find that balance between that loss of volume and the margin increase. So there will be movements on both sides of that as we find that delta on a market-to-market basis, but overall, we believe that utilizing the price optimization tool, the continued cooperative effort and communications between the retail fuels team and store operations leadership will understand those market-to-market dynamics. And certainly, we'll be confident in the fact that this margin opportunity that we have, this goal that we have for fiscal '20 is achievable as well as what we're doing on the fuel procurement side. We can't forget about those dynamics as well and what the fuel procurement team can bring to us going forward. In terms of RINs right now, the RINs really hasn't been much of an impact at all. And unless something changes here in fiscal '20 in terms of the environment, I still don't anticipate there being any major impact or change in RIN.

William J. Walljasper -- Senior Vice President and Chief Financial Officer

Thank you, Damian. This is Bill Walljasper. Hey, I just wanted to just add to what Terry had to say. Terry is exactly correct. We believe RINs is embedded in the cost and so the ebb and flow of that get kind of fleshed out overall in the margins. Just kind of put it in perspective, I mean some people asked the question, we sold 18.6 million RINs in the quarter for a value of $3.5 million. But a couple of things to think about on that fuel margin question that you had. We can -- we finished the year at $0.203 per gallon, obviously, as you look at the guidance for fiscal '20, we are anticipating an acceleration in that margin activity. Obviously, keeping the underlying macro environment somewhat consistent, now that could change as you alluded to, to answer your question. But think about a couple of things with respect to cadence in the fuel category moving forward. As we move into the first quarter, we will begin to complete the integration of our point-of-sale system with this new PriceAdvantage tool. And then now we still have roughly about 400 stores that don't have automated price signs. We'll begin to automate those price signs where we can in the second quarter. And so that, coupled with the fuel procurement activity that we just -- basically we just started here back in the fourth quarter, we definitely believe we have an opportunity. Even though we're going to be comparing -- we know we're going to be comparing against a very abnormally favorable fuel margin environment in the fall, we still think we have opportunities to grow that fuel margin.

Damian Witkowski -- G. Research. -- Analyst

Okay. And then I realized Darren, wouldn't sign off on the long-term value creation plan that you guys have in place. But does he -- did he sign off on the 2020 guidance? Or is that still -- because he hasn't started, he has have no impact on it?

William J. Walljasper -- Senior Vice President and Chief Financial Officer

Yeah. So I know Darren has had an opportunity -- he's been inundated with a lot of material that we've sent him and the Board has sent him, so I know he is going through and digesting that material. I've not heard any comments on the contrary with respect to the FY '20 plan at this point in time.

Damian Witkowski -- G. Research. -- Analyst

All right. That's fair. Thank you so much.

William J. Walljasper -- Senior Vice President and Chief Financial Officer

You bet, Damian.

Terry W. Handley -- President and Chief Executive Officer

Thank you.

Operator

Thank you. Our next question is from Irene Nattel from RBC Capital Markets. Your line is now open.

Irene Nattel -- RBC Capital Markets -- Analyst

Thanks. Good morning, everyone, and Terry, I'll add my voice to the chorus of congratulations.

Terry W. Handley -- President and Chief Executive Officer

Well, thanks so much, Irene. It's been an absolute pleasure.

Irene Nattel -- RBC Capital Markets -- Analyst

Likewise. Likewise. Sadly we need to turn to more practical items, however. So just wondering -- sorry, I'll just go back to that. On the fuel acquisition team, maybe you could just walk us through a little bit how you've done it historically and what kind of changes you're thinking about making and where you think the opportunity lies and how big it is?

Terry W. Handley -- President and Chief Executive Officer

Yes. In terms of the fuel procurement, I think that's where you're going, Irene.

Irene Nattel -- RBC Capital Markets -- Analyst

Yeah. Sorry, fuel procurement. Yeah.

Terry W. Handley -- President and Chief Executive Officer

Yeah. No, fuel procurement historically, we have been a rack purchaser of fuel on the daily rack pricing. And we certainly see the opportunities for growth in the basis points by looking at contracts and we've had very limited exposure or attempt the fuel of contracts. We think that there again is great upside there and -- but we really needed to build up the team in terms of that experience. We've identified a couple of great folks from outside the company that we brought to the team here during the last -- the back half of fiscal '19 and they certainly have had an impact already. And I believe we're just now beginning to scratch the surface, if you will, in terms of identifying these contracts. We had contracts already established and we believe based on those current contracts, we'll see an upward movement in the margin through basis points improvement. We'll continue to build out the team as well as understanding how we do a better job in terms of our fleet management as well. And so we think that there is, again, a great upside here in just being a little bit more deliberate in terms of how we do that and being more strategic in terms of how we purchase our fuel.

Irene Nattel -- RBC Capital Markets -- Analyst

That's really helpful. Thank you. And it sounds as though at this point there's absolutely no fun whatsoever to perhaps move to sort of national brand versus private label or Casey's brand if you will?

Terry W. Handley -- President and Chief Executive Officer

No. have no -- absolute -- you're quite frankly, Irene and I said this before on calls and so forth in terms of, we consider Casey's a national brand. We consider that a fuel brand and so we don't really see any reason to do anything different than what we're doing right now. We believe we can compete with anybody in our market wherever we operate.

Irene Nattel -- RBC Capital Markets -- Analyst

Absolutely. A couple of other questions, if I may. Just thinking about this -- the fleet card and this serves the opportunity for in-store convergence, as you roll-out the loyalty program and as you roll-out some of the other e-commerce tools, is there any difference in your ability to target that customer base? Do you think that sort of -- there's something there particularly for the fleet card users?

Terry W. Handley -- President and Chief Executive Officer

Yeah. I guess, I'll start that and maybe Bill can jump in here in case I go down the wrong path here, Irene. But I would tell you that I would look at that as much as we're going to look at in terms of the digital engagement and the identification of our customers, their purchasing habits and how we can promote to them specifically and bring value opportunities to them as individuals based on their purchasing habits. So certainly, it's more specific to our retail customers and maybe to our fleet customers, but I believe that there's still opportunity there as well. And quite frankly, at store level, the -- our store operations leadership in the field, these small communities, they know their customers. They understand their habits, their purchasing tendency, and certainly we can build a promotional structure around what we've identified in particular markets.

Irene Nattel -- RBC Capital Markets -- Analyst

That's great. And just one final one if I may. Can you address the current acquisition environment?

Terry W. Handley -- President and Chief Executive Officer

Well, right now, in terms of the acquisition environment, we still look at opportunities throughout the -- our operating area, and there are -- historically have been some pretty high multiples being paid in some of these acquisitions. We still believe that what I'll call tuck-in acquisitions are best suited to us. And we have -- we're purchasing a great book of business on a case-by-case basis and we're going to continue to be disciplined, I will say that, we will continue to be disciplined in terms of our approach to acquisitions. And if we find an acquisition of some size that we feel that we have an opportunity to integrate and bring value to shareholders, then we will certainly look at that. But at the end of the day, when we make an acquisition we want to make sure it brings shareholder value. And if we don't believe it's going to do that, if we believe that multiple is out of line, then we will walk away.

Irene Nattel -- RBC Capital Markets -- Analyst

That's great. Thank you. And then sorry, I lied. One final one if I might. As you see sort of the shift in how you go to market on the fuel procurement side, how would you assess your abilities in your inside store categories? And do you think there may be some opportunities there as well as we move forward?

Terry W. Handley -- President and Chief Executive Officer

Well, certainly, with regards to procurement on the inside items, we have -- utilizing our distribution network that we have and our ability to purchase truckload pricing. We are a major national buyer to the vast majority of our suppliers. So I would tell you that when it comes to the foodservice side, the ingredient side, making sure that we are maximizing every opportunity in terms of commodity pricing, that's going to be key. I will tell you, and I know I'm confident of the fact that Darren will have the same attitude. We will not sacrifice on quality when it comes to our food category. We will always look to advantages in terms of driving cost out of the product, but we will not do so to sacrifice the quality of that product. Equipment is another opportunity where we always on an annualized basis were looking to where we can do a better job in purchasing our equipment. And certainly, as we go forward and we look at the need for maybe a diversity in terms of that equipment, that may change in how we look in terms of purchasing. But procurement will certainly be a continued focus for us going forward, but we've been doing that enough a long time and we can always be better at it, but I think we're pretty damn good now.

Irene Nattel -- RBC Capital Markets -- Analyst

That's great. Thank you.

Operator

Thank you. Our next question is from Chuck Cerankosky from Northcoast Research. Your line is now open.

Chuck Cerankosky -- Northcoast Research -- Analyst

Good morning, everyone.

Terry W. Handley -- President and Chief Executive Officer

Good morning.

Chuck Cerankosky -- Northcoast Research -- Analyst

Terry, best wishes as you get ready to retire. All the best to you, and it's good to see. You left the team with some tough comparisons for fiscal '20.

Terry W. Handley -- President and Chief Executive Officer

Yeah. Thank you.

Chuck Cerankosky -- Northcoast Research -- Analyst

Bill, could you talk a little bit about the balance sheet going into next year expectations about free cash flow and perhaps debt paydown, stock repurchases, that sort of thing?

William J. Walljasper -- Senior Vice President and Chief Financial Officer

Absolutely. Yeah. As I mentioned in the call, we currently said at 2.4 times debt to EBITDA. That will continue to move. We anticipate that continue to move downward this fiscal year as we pay a little bit of our debt down, but primarily grow EBITDA over the course of this upcoming fiscal year. One of the things that Terry mentioned in the narrative was as we launched this value creation plan about 15 months ago, one of the items that was key in our list is to continue to drive free cash flow. So we fully anticipate their fee cash flow positive this upcoming year. Now with respect to debt, we don't have any plans at this point to take on any new debt. However, I would say we'll be opportunistic in that regard should any type of acquisitions come up that we feel we have the ability to execute on to drive shareholder value. As you know, Chuck, this is a little past fiscal '20, but we do have a bullet payment of $569 million due in August of 2020 and so we are currently looking at that, and I'm confident -- we have no concerns if we refinanced that in whatever market we choose. And so as you know, treasuries are coming now which makes those markets even more attractive. So if that continues along that path as we head into fiscal '21, I believe we're setting ourselves up for a tailwind with respect to interest payments as we refinance that. I hope that answer your questions.

Chuck Cerankosky -- Northcoast Research -- Analyst

How about share repo? Any thoughts on that?

William J. Walljasper -- Senior Vice President and Chief Financial Officer

I'm sorry. Yes, share repurchase. Yeah, right now we currently -- well, actually as you saw in the fourth quarter results, we do not have any share repurchases. We'll be opportunistic on that share repurchase over the course of this year as we -- to the extent as we drive free cash flow. I'm not sure -- I guess Darren will have to evaluate his thoughts on that. So I don't want to speak out of turn in that regard, but it's certainly from my perspective one thing to take on debt when you're at 1 times to lever up for share repurchase. But when you're at 2.5 times or thereabouts that makes us think a little bit. But certainly, it's not off the table. We do have an authorization out there that goes through the -- next June. And so we'll continue to keep you updated on that, but right now, I'd say this, Chuck, we really are focusing hard, as you can see from our fiscal '19 results to execute and stand up this value creation plan. So a lot of our resources are moving in that direction to drive shareholder value.

Chuck Cerankosky -- Northcoast Research -- Analyst

And back to operations. Perhaps this is a question for Terry. What was the impact of the enhanced fuel mix on fuel margin in the fourth quarter? And should we expect more from that going forward?

William J. Walljasper -- Senior Vice President and Chief Financial Officer

Why we have to jump anytime with a product optimization that we're talking about in fuel?

Chuck Cerankosky -- Northcoast Research -- Analyst

Yes, everything from diesel, to clear gas, to more alcohol in it.

William J. Walljasper -- Senior Vice President and Chief Financial Officer

Yeah. So on price optimization over the course of the fiscal year, which would also include our Q4, you're roughly about 35 basis points to the fuel margin.

Chuck Cerankosky -- Northcoast Research -- Analyst

What would you say is the upside going forward? Or is there any way to quantify that?

William J. Walljasper -- Senior Vice President and Chief Financial Officer

Yeah. So when we look at product optimization going forward, we don't cycle over those changes until roughly about the second quarter and third quarter depending on the tranches when we made those adjustments. So as we move into our first quarter, we'll continue to have that benefit. And a good share of that will be in the second quarter, again, until we cycle over those changes. Now we'll continue to look for refinements in product mix with respect to diesel, premium. E15 is another one that's coming out that might be a larger play in fiscal '20 and beyond. And so we'll have to keep you up-to-date on that one as well.

Chuck Cerankosky -- Northcoast Research -- Analyst

All right. Thank you.

William J. Walljasper -- Senior Vice President and Chief Financial Officer

You bet, Chuck.

Terry W. Handley -- President and Chief Executive Officer

Thanks, Chuck.

Operator

Thank you. (Operator Instructions) And our next question is from Anthony Lebiedzinski from Sidoti and Company. Your line is now open.

Anthony Lebiedzinski -- Sidoti & Company, LLC -- Analyst

Yes, good morning. And thank you for taking the questions and Terry, certainly congratulations on your pending retirement certainly well deserved.

Terry W. Handley -- President and Chief Executive Officer

Thanks, Tony.

Anthony Lebiedzinski -- Sidoti & Company, LLC -- Analyst

Sure. So a couple of questions on fuel. So just wondering as far as the fuel procurement, is there any embedded already expectation within your fuel margin guidance for fiscal '20? Are you already baking in some improvement because of the fuel procurement specifically?

Terry W. Handley -- President and Chief Executive Officer

Yeah. Anthony, this is Terry. I mean certainly, we've taken into account the expectation in terms of improvement from fuel procurement and embedded that into the margin. And so we're quite confident that we will reach those goals. And we'll certainly continue to work for continued enhancements thereof as we begin -- as we move through the year and become more adept at fuel procurement strategy.

Anthony Lebiedzinski -- Sidoti & Company, LLC -- Analyst

Got it. Thank you for that. And also longer term, how should we think about same-store fuel volumes with the fact that there are more fuel efficient vehicles out there on the roads? And you have mentioned vehicle miles driven have been down here as of late. So kind of longer term, what's the right way to think about the same-store fuel volumes and also taking into account your new fuel pricing strategy?

Terry W. Handley -- President and Chief Executive Officer

Yeah. Anthony, again, this is Terry. I would tell you in terms of the electric vehicles and such, I think that, that is longer term down the road. As we think about the near term, I would tell you that our strategy, our approach around the balance in terms of gallon growth with margin growth is going to be more prominent. And we're very, very confident of the fact that this is the right approach and certainly, I believe the results from fiscal '19 bear that out. And as the tool begin to take shape and it's utilized by the fuel -- retail fuels team in cooperation with our store operations leadership, I think we'll continue to find those markets where we can potentially grow gallons, but also more importantly or just as importantly is that, we're finding those opportunities where we can enhance margin.

Anthony Lebiedzinski -- Sidoti & Company, LLC -- Analyst

Got it, right. Thank you for that. And also I was just wondering if you can just touch on the performance of your stores in some of your newer markets like Ohio and Michigan, for example?

Terry W. Handley -- President and Chief Executive Officer

Yeah. Quite frankly, those markets are doing quite well and certainly, in any new market, whether it's Michigan, Ohio, Oklahoma, Tennessee and Kentucky, we're a new face on the street, if you will. And we need to make sure that they understand what value that we bring to their community and it's not only in terms of being a fuel and food and grocery provider, but also being a part of that community. And that is one of the things I'm quite proud of over the years is that we have -- as we move into new communities, we make sure that we aren't just a retailer from the State of Iowa. We are a part of that community and that we are always involved. And so we want to make sure that, that continues and that certainly plays very well for us that they understand we're there to stay and we're there to be a part of the community. But certainly, Oklahoma has done very well for us and as well as Arkansas. So we're excited about these new states and we'll continue to build out those states. Kansas, we're just doing a great job with them. I can't thank the store operations team enough to get out there and get in front of that. They've just done a great job.

Anthony Lebiedzinski -- Sidoti & Company, LLC -- Analyst

All right, well, thank you so much and best of luck.

Terry W. Handley -- President and Chief Executive Officer

Hey. Thanks, Anthony. Good talking to you.

Anthony Lebiedzinski -- Sidoti & Company, LLC -- Analyst

Likewise.

Operator

Thank you. Our next question is from Chris Mandeville from Jefferies. Your line is now open.

Christopher Mandeville -- Jefferies -- Analyst

Good morning. Bill, to start, can we talk about the strength in Q4, perhaps Q3 margins, maybe break that down a little bit? What were key costs in the quarter? And where do we stand now in terms of locking in pricing?

William J. Walljasper -- Senior Vice President and Chief Financial Officer

Yeah. So fourth quarter, there are several things that were benefiting the prepared food margin. First of all, we still were benefiting from the retail pricing increase that we took in May, and then again we took another series in July. So that's first. Second, you're correct, the commodity price benefit, the cheese cost in the fourth quarter was $1.73 all in. That compares to $1.87 a year ago. And so just as a reminder, about every $0.10 swing there's about 35 basis points -- 35 to 40 basis points of the overall prepared food margin. And then lastly, a little bit of a product mix shift as we get more promotional on some of the higher margin items that's helping benefit as well. So that's kind of a synopsis there. As far as locking in cheese, currently we're not locking on our cheese. Currently, on the spot market, we're about $1.80, I think about $1.82, $1.83 all in currently, which is below Q1 comparison of last year, which was about $1.87. So we still have a favorable comparison. We will continue to look for opportunities and we contemplated this over the last probably three to four months to look at futures, made the decision to continue to buy in the spot market, worked out very well as you can see with respect to the most recent results.

Christopher Mandeville -- Jefferies -- Analyst

Got it. A quick one being just on grocery, what were comps excluding cigarettes?

William J. Walljasper -- Senior Vice President and Chief Financial Officer

Comps excluding cigarettes, it's going to be in that 4% to 5% range -- well, about 400 to 500 basis point range up from where we finished.

Christopher Mandeville -- Jefferies -- Analyst

Okay. And then can you touch a little bit on what you're doing with your digital marketing? I guess we've seen a pretty notable increase on emails and social media posts. So how has that affected customer engagement? And maybe give us a sense of what else you might be doing and how you provided support to Chris and his team?

William J. Walljasper -- Senior Vice President and Chief Financial Officer

Yeah. So certainly, as this is a key area for -- well, one of many key areas for us and so we're obviously providing as much support as we can for Chris to stand this up and his team. And so as you know, we kicked off our new e-commerce website here in April. It's a much enhanced, streamlined site, reducing the number of clicks that a customer has to go through. As I mentioned earlier, it creates an automatic opportunity for cross-sell. So we are seeing a nice uptick in regards to that. I think right now, it's a little too early to give out any results of that here, but we will at the next earnings call certainly provide some insight as to how the e-commerce platform. So along with that, it does give us -- we start capturing some data of our customers and along with that, we started doing some different promotional opportunities running through that commerce site, special -- with special promotions on pizza during certain days of the week to drive that. I was going down a few of those. We don't have a lot of results, but at least what we have seen has very successful in driving volume and what I'll call some of those off days that you typically would expect with respect to pizza primarily. So as we move forward into this fiscal year, you will continue to see an increase in social media engagement and other types of engagement with the customers because we are launching a couple of new products, as I mentioned. Obviously, the loyalty is one in Q2, but also the mobile app here, we'll start this month on that one.

Christopher Mandeville -- Jefferies -- Analyst

And then just the final one for me being actually on product innovation on food service, might be a little bit preliminary thing out Darren's coming into the next year, but any initial thoughts on how you feel about your menu board today in terms of -- perhaps in quality?

William J. Walljasper -- Senior Vice President and Chief Financial Officer

Well, I mean, we've been very fortunate and blessed over the last 50 plus years. We've been very -- with our prepared food operation have been very successful in the products. Pizza is the primary product, as you know. But as we evolve into new states, new consumer preferences, this is an area that needs to evolve. I know Chris and his team is working diligently on product innovation, but also kind of maybe a product reimaging with different packaging, different ways to package the products, to present the products and that's just starting under way right now. We'll have a lot more detail around that very aspect in the next conference call, but it is a high priority in the food service category for us.

Christopher Mandeville -- Jefferies -- Analyst

All right. Great, Terry. Congratulations. Please enjoy your retirement, and it's been a privilege working with you.

Terry W. Handley -- President and Chief Executive Officer

Yes, you too. Thank you, Chris. Appreciate it.

Operator

Thank you. Our next question is from Chris Prykull from Goldman Sachs. Your line is now open.

Christopher Prykull -- Goldman Sachs -- Analyst

Good morning guys. Thanks for squeezing me in and Terry, congratulations.

Terry W. Handley -- President and Chief Executive Officer

Thank you, sir.

Christopher Prykull -- Goldman Sachs -- Analyst

So just a couple of follow-up questions for me. On the prepared same-store sales guidance for fiscal '20, how are you all thinking about the cadence of that? Would it be fair to characterize it as maybe more back half weighted just given the timing of some of your initiative roll-outs? And then what does this assume from a competitive standpoint? Maybe give us an update on what you're seeing from QSRs in particular?

Terry W. Handley -- President and Chief Executive Officer

Well, I would tell you -- this is Terry. I would tell you that yes, to answer the first part of your question, that you will see the -- more of it in terms of the back half of the fiscal year. As Bill just mentioned, the e-commerce platform is just rolled out here at the end of April and while we see a nice jump, actually a very, very nice jump in terms of the year over online orders, we certainly understand that there's still a great deal of upside there, the mobile app is coming here in Q1. And then certainly the loyalty program rolling out in Q2 as it right now is presently scheduled. So we certainly believe that the back half of the year is where that upside will come in terms of sales. In terms of the competition, I'll speak specifically to the pizza competitors and whom we face. It's obviously very competitive right now from a promotional perspective, it's something that we are continuing to assess and I'm very, very confident that Darren will take that in terms of his assessment in how that strategy might look going forward regarding our pricing promotion on whole pies, whole pizza pies as well as in terms of our sandwich combos relative to the QSR. So it's obviously become a very competitive market. Everybody's fighting for every last dollar. We're right there with them, but we also want to make sure that it's a balanced approach and that we certainly aren't being overprescribed when it comes to the promotional topic.

Christopher Prykull -- Goldman Sachs -- Analyst

Great, that's helpful. And then if I could just go back to the fuel margin guidance for one second. I guess when you think about the building blocks to the guidance, is it fair to assume that you start with the three or five-year average fuel margin, which is somewhere between $0.19 and $0.195, and then you layer in some benefit -- and then you layer in some benefit from the C-Store competitive dynamics that you discussed earlier and then you sort of layer in pricing mix procurement benefits on top of that?

Terry W. Handley -- President and Chief Executive Officer

The short answer of that would be, yes.

Christopher Prykull -- Goldman Sachs -- Analyst

Okay, perfect. And then maybe one last one. Just how are you thinking about the interplay between the fleet card and price optimization and specifically the impact to gallons versus margins as the year progresses? I guess maybe more explicitly, how should we think about the cadence of same-store gallon growth as the fleet card ramps?

Terry W. Handley -- President and Chief Executive Officer

Yeah. I guess, I would -- Bill, may have a different opinion on this, but I would look at them as somewhat being a little different in terms of what those opportunities present. But we will continue to roll-out the fleet card program in terms of -- we see great opportunity here especially in our markets where we have great density and so we certainly will look to the potential there, where -- in the back half of the year, we'll start to see that start to scale up as the fleet card program becomes more in tune with our -- that consumer base and they start to utilize that to a greater degree.

William J. Walljasper -- Senior Vice President and Chief Financial Officer

Yeah, and just add to that, just in addition to the fleet card ramping up and the universal program ramping up as well, as loyalty -- as it launched in the back half of the year, we also anticipate some opportunities there to drive some volumes. So as Terry mentioned, we definitely believe that we have an opportunity to -- from a glide path to increases in the back half.

Christopher Prykull -- Goldman Sachs -- Analyst

Great. Really helpful and good luck for this fiscal year.

William J. Walljasper -- Senior Vice President and Chief Financial Officer

Thank you.

Terry W. Handley -- President and Chief Executive Officer

Yes, thank you.

Operator

Thank you. Our next question is from John Royall from JP Morgan. Your line is now open.

John Royall -- JP Morgan -- Analyst

Hey, good morning, guys. Thanks for squeezing me in.

Terry W. Handley -- President and Chief Executive Officer

Good morning, John.

John Royall -- JP Morgan -- Analyst

Most of my questions have been answered. I just had one quick one. In prepared foods, can you talk about the promotional activity by QSR competitors that you guys have alluded to in the past and how that's evolved in 4Q and maybe what you're seeing in 1Q so far?

William J. Walljasper -- Senior Vice President and Chief Financial Officer

Yeah, absolutely, John. This is an area that continues to be very competitive. It has been competitive for some time now and so some of the activity that we are seeing, as you might imagine, it comes into the pizza category. Pizza roughly is about half of the prepared food and fountain category in totality. And so the aggressiveness in pricing and promotional activity from our peers continues to elevate. And so we continue to try to respond to that. And so that's what we're -- that's been what we're referring to. But there are other QSRs also that are also being more proactive in their value propositions and so depending on the market area where we have our stores, we certainly are cognizant of that and we track what we deem to be our top competitors to -- with respect to their promotional activity and our movement.

John Royall -- JP Morgan -- Analyst

Great. Thank you.

William J. Walljasper -- Senior Vice President and Chief Financial Officer

You bet.

Operator

Thank you. At this time, I'm showing no further questions. I would like to turn the call back over to Terry Handley, President and CEO for closing remarks.

Terry W. Handley -- President and Chief Executive Officer

I would like to thank everyone for joining us this morning and close the call by reiterating our key initiatives are designed to position Casey's for accelerated revenue growth and improved profitability through our long-term value creation plan. This will be accomplished through a disciplined capital allocation strategy that focuses on prioritizing high return growth and profitable initiatives.

We strongly believe the combination of these actions will continue our long-term track record of driving shareholder value. Thanks, everyone, and have a great day.

Operator

Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for your participation in today's conference. This concludes the program. You may now disconnect.

Duration: 72 minutes

Call participants:

William J. Walljasper -- Senior Vice President and Chief Financial Officer

Terry W. Handley -- President and Chief Executive Officer

Karen Short -- Barclays Capital -- Analyst

Bonnie Herzog -- Wells Fargo Securities -- Analyst

Kelly Bania -- BMO Capital Markets -- Analyst

Damian Witkowski -- G. Research. -- Analyst

Irene Nattel -- RBC Capital Markets -- Analyst

Chuck Cerankosky -- Northcoast Research -- Analyst

Anthony Lebiedzinski -- Sidoti & Company, LLC -- Analyst

Christopher Mandeville -- Jefferies -- Analyst

Christopher Prykull -- Goldman Sachs -- Analyst

John Royall -- JP Morgan -- Analyst

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*Stock Advisor returns as of March 1, 2019

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Motley Fool Transcribers has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Casey's General Stores. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.