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Whole Foods Trims Sales Outlook

AUSTIN, Texas — Whole Foods Market here on Wednesday said its comparable-store sales growth slowed in the first quarter, and it slightly reduced its sales outlook for the year.

Comps in the 16-week first quarter, which ended Jan. 20, rose 7.2% — much higher than most of the food retailing industry but below its range of 8.5% to 8.9% over the past year.

The company also said its comps for the year are expected to fall in the range of 6.6% to 8%, vs. previous projections of 6.5% to 8.5%. Sales for the year are now expected to rise 10% to 11%, vs previous projections of 10% to 12%.

Net income for the first quarter was $146 million, vs. $118 million a year ago, and sales were up 14%, to $3.86 billion.

“Whole Foods Market's quarter, while not all that bad, was clearly squishier than what investors have become accustomed to,” said Edward Aaron, a Denver-based analyst with RBC Capital markets.

He said that “the Whole Foods story still works very well with comps in the 7% range, so WFM should still be viewed as a compelling growth story as long as comps stay around these levels,” which he expects, despite a sluggish start to Q2.

Andrew Wolf, a Richmond, Va.-based analyst with BB&T Capital Markets, noted that Whole Foods appears ready to counter the softening sales, which were spread throughout the country, with price investments.

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