Thanksgiving is here, and across the country people are taking stock of their pantries deciding how best to trim their turkeys, tofurkeys, turduckens, cowporkens, or whatever the day's main dish will be.
But it's not the menu that's got our attention -- we're more interested in where people choose to shop for all the trimmings.
So who's excited to go to Safeway? Anyone? Anyone? Exactly.
The main dish in the supermarket sector
Supermarket stocks have been about as appetizing as that mystery dish hiding at the back of the fridge. The grocery sector is in tough times because of skittish consumers and tons of competition. But there is one standout -- a store that makes shopping an experience, not a chore.
Whole Foods Market (Nasdaq: WFMI ) is one of the very few truly appetizing stocks among the grocers. It boasts impressive revenue growth, high margins, and manageable debt. It's also got a few of the intangible positives that female investors like us appreciate -- and male investors shouldn't just brush off as "soft metrics" when they do their analysis.
Whole Foods Market makes every trip a pleasant experience. Its produce aisle is to die for, and it offers gourmet fare, unusual natural and organic toiletries, gourmet cheeses, and excellent prepared meals for families on the go. They've got incense, vegetarian cookbooks, and yoga gear. Admit it; you get excited when you're in Whole Foods, too.
Doing good is good for the bottom line
Beyond its core focus on organic and natural goods, the company has lofty missions up its sleeve.
Co-CEO John Mackey's a huge proponent of conscious capitalism, which contends that the best way to do successful and long-term profitable business is by taking all stakeholders (employees, customers, suppliers, and shareholders) into account. The company puts money behind what it stands for: healthy eating education; labeling initiatives on foods involving animal welfare, place of origin, and sustainability; and locally grown goods.
It is differentiating factors like those that make Whole Foods a tastier investment than the crowded landscape of archrivals that include Safeway (NYSE: SWY ) , Kroger (NYSE: KR ) , and SUPERVALU (NYSE: SVU ) .
In fact, it's making mincemeat out of the competition. Check out this mouth-watering chart.
Earnings/Loss Per Share (TTM)
Revenue Increase/Decrease (TTM)
Gross Profit Margin
Total Debt-to-equity Ratio
Source: Capital IQ, a division of Standard & Poor's.
This side-by-side comparison shows why some of us don't fret about the premium price on Whole Foods' stock. The company is trouncing its conventional rivals on all the metrics above, and that's no mean feat in an industry sector that for the most part can't impress anybody with growth.
Guess who's selling groceries now?
Although it's beatings its more conventional competitors, Whole Foods does have to contend with the likes of Wal-Mart (NYSE: WMT ) and Target (NYSE: TGT ) , both of which have been increasingly using groceries to lure traffic into their stores.
Still, the organic grocer's most serious rival is privately held Trader Joe's. Trader Joe's has a similar number of stores (350 compared to Whole Foods' 270 or so) and allegedly racks in a comparable amount of annual sales. Possibly the most vicious of Trader Joe's competitive strengths is that it offers up a lot of natural and organic goods cheaper than Whole Foods does.
Still, even in this kind of competitive environment, Whole Foods has been standing strong against its rivals. Its management seems to understand that running a good business isn't just about beating lame competitors, but learning how to innovate to beat the best ones.
Chick wisdom: Sometimes you pay up for quality
Whole Foods trades at about 32 times earnings, and so you couldn't accuse it of being the cheapest stock in the retail space. Both Wal-Mart and Target trade at far cheaper multiples, for example. Still, Whole Foods has plenty of good ideas up its sleeve and solid indications that there's ample innovative growth ahead. Given the promise of continued success, we may look back one day and realize Whole Foods was dirt cheap at these levels.
Join us next week for our next installment of Stock Picks With Chicks, and in the meantime, enjoy your Thanksgiving dinner! And be thankful we're not cooking it.