Did Weak Guidance Spoil Whole Foods Market, Inc. (WFM)?

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Whole Foods Market, Inc. (WFM) fell 9% Thursday after leaving investors hungry for more following the release its fiscal first-quarter results.

Though earnings per share came in slightly above analyst estimates after growing 20% year over year to $0.78, quarterly revenue missed after rising 13.7% from the year-ago period to $3.856 billion. In addition, Whole Foods lowered the high end of its revenue guidance for the remainder of 2013 and now expects sales growth in the range of only 10% to 11%. When all’s said and done at the end of the year, then, and based on last year’s revenue of $11.7 billion, that means 2013 sales should come in between $12.87 and $12.99 billion, or below analysts’ consensus of $13.2 billion.

Whole Foods Market, Inc. (NASDAQ:WFM)

Clean up in the value aisle
So what happened?

While margins increased across the board, management warned investors not to expect the same level of EPS growth for the remainder of the year as the store achieved in the first quarter.  Specifically, during Wednesday’s earnings conference call, co-CEO Walter Robb stated, “We know that one of the keys to broadening our appeal when growing our sales over the longer term is to improve our relative value positioning.”

Translation? Whole Foods wants to place more focus on lower-priced (and therefore lower-margin) items to be more competitive in the grocery market. Of course, they’re not talking about adopting a Costco Wholesale Corporation (NASDAQ:COST)-esque strategy of pushing massive volumes of product at barely above cost. But by showing customers they can offer great products at reasonably low prices, Whole Foods is making its brand that much more appealing to increasingly value-conscious consumers who may otherwise be tempted to drive down the street to the nearest Safeway Inc. (NYSE:SWY) to fill their carts. Considering the higher costs and relatively stagnant revenue growth Safeway has endured for the past few years, you can bet the competing grocery chain is doing everything it can to stifle Whole Foods’ threatening meteoric rise.

Continued growth, shareholder value
In addition, Whole Foods managed to open a record 10 new stores in its fiscal first quarter, bringing its total number of locations to 345 with further plans to continue expanding at an accelerating pace for the foreseeable future. To be sure, according to management, Whole Foods has signed 11 new leases since its fourth-quarter earnings announcement, and currently has “85 stores in development, totaling 3 million square feet and representing 24% of [their] operating store base,” according to the call.

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