PIPER JAFFRAY CONSUMER CONFERENCE

NEW YORK - When the 100 Albertsons stores slated for closure go up for sale this summer, Wild Oats Markets will be among the shoppers, the retailer's chief executive officer said at an investor conference last week."There's a lot of real estate coming on the market that fits exactly where we want to be," Perry Odak, CEO of Wild Oats, said at the Piper Jaffray Consumer Conference here. "There are about

NEW YORK - When the 100 Albertsons stores slated for closure go up for sale this summer, Wild Oats Markets will be among the shoppers, the retailer's chief executive officer said at an investor conference last week.

"There's a lot of real estate coming on the market that fits exactly where we want to be," Perry Odak, CEO of Wild Oats, said at the Piper Jaffray Consumer Conference here. "There are about 30 stores that we have a high degree of interest in, and if we're successful with that, it could substantially step up our expansion goals."

Odak reiterated his earlier statements that Wild Oats has identified as many as 450 locations nationwide that could support a Wild Oats store. The Albertsons closures are set for five different markets, including Wild Oats' home market in Colorado, and in Florida, where the retailer is enjoying a sizzling opening of its newest store in Tampa.

Odak said the success of its Tampa location has given the retailer additional confidence that it has a store format that can succeed, and that its era as a turnaround situation is coming to an end.

"The Tampa-St. Pete market has never had an organic and all-natural store and there were serious questions as to whether it was ready for something like that. People who lived there said it was too early," Odak said. "But the store did $100,000 in business on the first day, and has done double what we expected since opening."

The next generation of Wild Oats stores, set to debut early next year in Boulder, will take the concept to a new level, he added. "This will be a format that nobody else will be able to follow," he predicted, saying that merchandising presentation, store signs and the "theater of fresh food," will be stepped up.

"Our strategy is really store expansion at this time," he said. "Internally, our focus is on perishable products, and for being the biggest and best store for organic products."