PARIS (Reuters) – Carrefour said on Wednesday it was confident about its turnaround after Europe’s largest food retailer delivered record free cash flow of 1.23 billion euros ($1.40 billion) and a 7.7% rise in operating profit for 2021.

On the back of these strong results Carrefour handed investors an 8% dividend hike to 0.52 euros per share and launched a new share buyback plan of 750 million euros for 2022.

Cash is also key to the French food retailer’s plans to step up digital commerce expansion without the extra financial resources that would have been on hand if two planned tie-ups last year had not failed – one with Canada’s Couche-Tard and one with France’s Auchan.

Carrefour reported a well-flaggedd 7.7% rise in 2021 recurring operating profit to 2.27 billion euros at constant exchange rates, driven notably by its core French market.

The performance reflected cost cuts and 2021 sales which grew 2.3% on a like-for-like basis to 81.245 billion euros.

Carrefour also raised its cost-cutting goal to 2.7 billion euros on an annual basis in 2021-23 from an initial target of 2.4 billion euros, having achieved 930 million in cost savings in 2021.

($1 = 0.8800 euros)

(Reporting by Dominique Vidalon; Editing by GV De Clercq)