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Whole Foods’ Comp Trends Slow

"The Northeast region was comping over 20%, clearly indicating customers are continuing to restock.” — John Mackey, Co-CEO, Whole Foods

AUSTIN, Texas — Whole Foods Market here said last week it was continuing to feel the impact of Hurricane Sandy in its Northeast stores roughly 10 days after the storm hit.

The storm impacted 91 stores and four distribution facilities in four regions, John Mackey, chairman and co-chief executive officer, said during a conference call with analysts to discuss financial results for the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30.

Whole Foods expects to record a one-time charge in the first quarter for estimated uninsured losses, he said.

John Mackey
John Mackey

While the chain saw comparable-store sales exceeding 11% chainwide during the first two days of last week, “the Northeast region was comping over 20%, clearly indicating customers are continuing to restock,” Mackey pointed out.

For the fourth quarter, which included an extra week, net income increased 49.7% to $112.7 million, while sales jumped 23.6% to $2.9 billion, and comparable-store sales rose 8.5%.

For the 53-week year, net income increased 35.9% to $465.6 million, while sales rose 15.7% to $11.7 billion, and comps were up 8.7%.

The company said comps for the first six weeks of the first quarter are up 7.3% — an indication, said Scott Mushkin, an analyst at Jefferies & Co., New York, that comps are showing signs of slowing down.

Decelerating Comps

Andrew Wolf, managing director for BB&T Capital Markets, Richmond, Va., said the deceleration of comps in the first few weeks of the first quarter “reflects a negative but not quantified impact from Hurricane Sandy and a difficult year-ago comparison due to a gift card promotion with LivingSocial.”

Mackey said Whole Foods is narrowing the price gap with other retailers, with its price position relative to 80 competitors improved by 100 basis points, “resulting in our most competitive position in more than three years.”

More news: Whole Foods Launches Foodie Travel Company

An important element in its value pricing strategy is an ongoing expansion of private-label offerings, including 70 new frozen items under the 365 and Whole Foods Market labels beginning in late September.

In response to a question, Mackey said the company is considering introducing a loyalty program. “We may tie it to the introduction of our wellness clubs within the next couple of years.”

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