Whole Foods Market Inc., the largest natural-goods grocer in the U.S., lowered its annual sales forecast amid increased competition from new rivals.
Sales this fiscal year will rise 9.6 percent to 9.9 percent, down from a previous projection for a gain of as much as 11 percent, the Austin, Texas-based company said. Sales at stores open at least 53 weeks will rise as much as 4.4 percent after earlier forecasting up to 5.5 percent.
Whole Foods has been trying to lower its prices to better compete with other natural and organic food sellers including Fresh Market Inc., Sprouts Farmers Market Inc. and Kroger Co. Whole Foods, which has almost 390 locations, also has been accelerating store openings to boost revenue. Those stores, however, are eroding sales of established locations.
“Every supermarket out there is aggressively pushing into organic and natural to the extent they can: everyone from Kroger to Wal-Mart,” said Joe Feldman, a New York-based analyst at Telsey Advisory Group. There’s also more direct competition from Sprouts and Fairway Group Holdings Inc., he said.
Whole Foods shares fell 6.1 percent to $36.71 at 9:47 a.m. in New York, after slumping as much as 7.5 percent for the biggest intraday decline since May 7. The stock had lost 32 percent this year through yesterday, while the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index climbed 6.6 percent.
The retailer lowered the top end of its forecast for profit this fiscal year to as much as $1.54 a share, excluding certain items, from a previous estimate of as much as $1.56. Analysts estimate $1.53 a share, on average.
Whole Foods is trying to boost sales with a new marketing campaign that will start this fall, Co-Chief Executive Officer Walter Robb said on a conference call yesterday. It will be the first national ad program for the company, which spends less than 1 percent of sales on marketing, he said.
Net income for the quarter ended July 6 rose 6.3 percent to $151 million, or 41 cents a share, from $142 million, or 38 cents, a year ago, the company said. The average of 30 analysts’ estimates compiled by Bloomberg was 39 cents a share. Revenue increased 10 percent to $3.38 billion, trailing the $3.39 billion average estimate.
New stores may be hurting the sales of existing locations, Co-CEO John Mackey said on a conference call in May.
“With our accelerated growth over the last few years, we’re seeing a slightly greater impact today” from store cannibalization, he said.
Comparable-store sales rose 3.9 percent in the quarter, compared with a 4.5 percent gain in the prior quarter. Analysts estimated 4.8 percent, the average of 22 projections from Consensus Metrix.
“Same-store sales are stabilizing, but it feels like they’re stabilizing at a lower rate, around 3 percent,” Feldman said. “Investors are a little frustrated with that level.”
While the grocer has been trying to lower prices, a recent Bloomberg study found that Sprouts is undercutting Whole Foods’ prices. A basket of 148 brand-name items, including Kashi cereal, is $691.92 at Sprouts and $780.64 at Whole Foods, according to the May study led by Jennifer Bartashus, a Bloomberg Intelligence analyst in Skillman, New Jersey.
Whole Foods has said it will have 500 locations in fiscal 2017 and sees 1,200 stores long-term in the U.S.
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