New customer business also recorded very good year-on-year performance in the first half of 2019, with a total of 23% more registered new customers.
The gross margin (sales less cost of materials, in % of sales) developed favorably in the first half of 2019, increasing year-on-year by 0.7 percentage points to 28.4%. Contributing to the positive gross margin performance was among others a continued expansion in the highmargin business with private label food and litter, as well as a further decline in the number of non-profitable customer orders. Earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization (EBITDA) improved to EUR 4.5 m in the first half of 2019 compared to the prior year (H1 2018: EUR -5.0 m). Excluding effects from the IFRS 16 ("Leases") accounting standard – which is applied as of financial year 2019 – EBITDA increased by EUR 2.0 m. At EUR -9.1 m, earnings before taxes (EBT) remained at the prior year’s level (H1 2018: EUR -9.2 m).
Further improvements in the company’s cost structure, particularly in the areas of logistics and IT/administration, had a positive effect on earnings development. Logistics expenses as a Corporate News 2/3 percentage of sales in the first half of 2019 were significantly reduced by 1.8 percentage points to 18.4% (H1 2018: 20.2%). An improvement of 1.0 percentage points was achieved through operational improvements in the logistics network, the remaining improvement is attributable to the application of IFRS 16 as of 2019. In the second quarter of 2019, the first Italian fulfilment center was opened near Milan, allowing for an even faster delivery to customers in Italy. Overall, with twelve fulfilment centers, zooplus now has a fully integrated and flexible logistics network across Europe that is unmatched in the industry. The improvements achieved in the gross margin and logistics costs were reinvested in the sustainable expansion of the business. As a result of these investments, marketing and new customer acquisition costs as a percentage of sales grew to 3.3% in the first half of 2019 (H1 2018: 2.0%).