WHOLE FOODS SCORES SOLID SALES

AUSTIN, Texas -- Whole Foods Market here said its sales trends indicate it is picking up share from mainstream operators.According to John Mackey, chairman, president and chief executive officer, the company's comparable-store sales increase of 10% for the fiscal year -- on top of comp growth that's averaged 8.8% over the last 10 years -- "makes it clear we're pulling more mainstream customers, since

AUSTIN, Texas -- Whole Foods Market here said its sales trends indicate it is picking up share from mainstream operators.

According to John Mackey, chairman, president and chief executive officer, the company's comparable-store sales increase of 10% for the fiscal year -- on top of comp growth that's averaged 8.8% over the last 10 years -- "makes it clear we're pulling more mainstream customers, since the population is not growing that fast."

Mackey made his comments during a conference call with securities analysts following release last week of the chain's financial results for the year and fourth quarter ended Sept. 29.

"In the face of the weakest economy the U.S. has seen in over 10 years, we produced solid top- and bottom-line results," Mackey said, with sales up 21% to $2.7 billion for the year and 20% to $638.1 million for the quarter, while net income increased 33.5% to $84.5 million for the year and 22% to $38 million for the quarter.

Comparable-store sales for the first quarter are running above 9.5%, Glenda Flanagan, executive vice president and chief financial officer said, although the inclusion of three Harry's Farmers Market stores in Atlanta that Whole Foods acquired a year ago are expected to negatively impact comps by 50 to100 basis points for the quarter and the year.

In other conference call highlights:

Mackey said Whole Foods is on target to operate 400 stores doing volume of $10 billion by 2010.

He said the company plans to open six stores in the current quarter and six to nine additional units in the balance of the year.

The company plans to convert 13 Boston-area Bread & Circus stores to the Whole Foods banner by end of the 2003 calendar year, Mackey said, following a successful rebranding of 23 Fresh Fields stores in Philadelphia and Washington during the fourth quarter.

Whole Foods increased its guidance on earnings per share for 2003 to a range of $1.62 to $1.69, up from $1.60 to $1.62; however, it said it is maintaining its guidance on sales increases of 15% to 20%, with comparable store sales anticipated to increase 8% to 9.5% in the first quarter and 6.5% to 8.5% the rest of the year.