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I'm Not Wasting This Whole Foods Buying Opportunity

Whole Foods Market's (NASDAQ: WFM  ) shares have been down in the dumps lately, and the negativity has reached a fever pitch as the stock's been trashed. The psychology is clear, and the time is ripe to buy more shares -- and I'm buying more for the Prosocial Portfolio I manage for

In all kinds of ways, sometimes we throw away things that are still good, forgetting common-sense value and wasting money. In 2010, Americans trashed 31% of our food supply, or 133 billion pounds. Granted, if something really is bad, we can't keep it. However, items that are still perfectly edible frequently end up in the trash bin. That wasted food represents $161.6 billion -- that's money that came out of a heck of a lot of bank accounts with nothing to show for it.

In other words, our perceptions and fears of negative outcomes can get the best of us. It happens in investing, too.

Whole Foods hasn't "gone bad," although financial headlines have been beating the "rotten" metaphor to death. The stock is still perfectly good. Those who have panicked have sold a good, and high-quality, stock at a loss, throwing future returns in the trash. Some others don't want to buy, afraid of the supposedly rotten reason the stock's this cheap.

Whether we're cleaning out the fridge or pantry or investing in stocks, it's a good idea to count to 10 first and contemplate what's good or not.

Are these stocks shopworn?
We've had some time to breathe after Whole Foods' most recent quarter upset so many investors. Still, hysterical financial news headlines and expert opinions have continued to play up the idea that Whole Foods is on the verge of death.

Expand our lens, though, and we can see that other organic and specialty grocer stocks have been getting trounced too. The Fresh Market, Sprouts Farmers Market, and Natural Grocers by Vitamin Cottage have all experienced intense pressure lately, but their situations are seldom called out with such breathless drama. Natural Grocers by Vitamin Cottage's stock has had the most dramatic fall from grace, losing about half of its value in the last year.

It's not great if the whole industry is fighting for advantage, but it also tells us that Whole Foods isn't in a company-specific rut. Furthermore, Whole Foods has some strong weapons for long-term-thinking investors.

Whole Foods has plenty of resources with which it can adjust its business and strategy. It's still a highly profitable company that generates hearty sales and comps growth, and it still has a great brand and unblemished balance sheet. As much as investors are unhappy about Whole Foods' investing on price, it can afford to do it.

For the long-haul future, lowering prices on some items, especially staples, will be a boon, not a bust, for Whole Foods. Drawing in more customers from all demographics with increasingly accessible pricing will expand its reach as well as consumer understanding of its lofty mission.

The real specials in the aisles
Whole Foods has been able to offer more competitive pricing on many of the center-aisle items and basic staples. That's been the major headline, along with margin concerns. One thing investors seem to forget, though, is that it still has many products on the other side of the spectrum that it can charge higher prices for -- because they're special and they're worth it.

In Whole Foods' latest conference call -- in which analysts became combative, demanding details of the grocer's plan of attack -- management revealed something that may be a secret weapon. Not surprisingly, analysts didn't seem to be keyed into that particular part of the exposition:  

As we raise the bar on differentiation, our customers have responded with sales of mission- and attribute-based products such as organic, non-GMO, whole-trade guarantee, responsibly farmed seafood and grass-fed beef, along with sales of our exclusive brand products, continuing to grow faster than the store average [emphasis mine].

Many customers realize one pays more for certain items, and "mission- and attribute-based" products are a great example. We're willing to pay more because these products provide more than monetary value -- they support real value.

Whole Foods also sometimes enjoys exclusive arrangements with some suppliers, so that it carries products that shoppers won't find in rivals' stores. It also has a history of having been first to market with some products that have gone on to wider distribution in U.S. retail stores.

Going against the grain
It's been worthwhile to own a great, disruptive company like Whole Foods all along, even if the pinch currently feels painful. Short-term problems -- or even events that are hysterically drummed up beyond reason -- lend perfect times to add to our positions. Skittish, overreacting investors will realize their mistake sooner than later.

Chipotle delivered a similarly perfect opportunity two years ago, when a pervasive perception floated around that its growth had spoiled. Over the longer term, we now know it has continued to clock amazing sales, profits, and comps; its most recent quarter is just one dramatic case in point. Chipotle hit a home run that went against the grain of general retail and restaurant weakness.

People who invested on that negativity have done quite well since. I bought shares of Chipotle for the Prosocial Portfolio during that psychologically negative phase myself, and that purchase has resulted in a 55% gain thus far.

Investors should, and many do, long for such opportunities. Most know this adage: "Buy when blood is running in the streets." Still, when push comes to shove, and when the herd charges for the exits, it can be very hard to resist the urge to follow along.

I feel confident in Whole Foods' business; it's actually already a three-time Prosocial Portfolio pick. It's one of the greatest, most stakeholder-friendly companies out there. Right now, the price is far more tantalizing than it has been in years. Let's not waste the opportunity: Whole Foods is still perfectly good -- even great -- for long-term investors.

Innovating for super-healthy returns
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Read/Post Comments (6) | Recommend This Article (52)

Comments from our Foolish Readers

Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

  • Report this Comment On July 09, 2014, at 6:58 PM, TMFVelvetHammer wrote:

    Great stuff, Alyce!

    -Jason Hall

  • Report this Comment On July 10, 2014, at 10:29 AM, superDee wrote:

    This is beautifully written Alyce and it makes perfect sense!! I have quite a bit of WFM and I am holding on to it.

    Dee G

  • Report this Comment On July 13, 2014, at 10:17 AM, barrybwa wrote:

    WFM is so over, have you shopped in one lately , traffic is down . Less organic foods Sure they may go up 10 % from their low but that's it . Organic eating and farmings is for the few believers ( The Healthy The Proud

    Barry Walter

  • Report this Comment On July 14, 2014, at 8:27 AM, LittleBluestem wrote:

    barrybwa, I take it you are a frequent Whole Foods visitor since apparently you are able to make a comparison in order to determine that traffic is down?

    I was at the Whole Foods Market in Plymouth Meeting on a very recent Monday mid-morning and traffic there was quite good for that time of day compared other grocery stores that I also shop.

    Oh, and thank you so much for noticing my health! I am indeed proud of it.


  • Report this Comment On July 15, 2014, at 12:35 PM, DavidDavis wrote:

    Try to invest in mmj market - ALPHALA

  • Report this Comment On July 15, 2014, at 8:06 PM, Borisbmx wrote:

    the story doesn't match the reality of the numbers.

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Alyce Lomax

Alyce Lomax is a columnist for specializing in environmental, social, and governance (ESG) issues and an analyst for Motley Fool One. From October 2010 through June 2015, she managed the real-money Prosocial Portfolio, which integrated socially responsible investing factors into stock analysis.

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8/28/2015 4:00 PM
WFM $32.85 Down -0.29 -0.88%
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