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Exploring Amazon's Plans for Its Whole Foods Acquisition

By Motley Fool Staff - Jun 24, 2017 at 1:11PM

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The e-commerce leader is paying a hefty multiple for the organic grocer despite its many setbacks -- what kind of opportunities do they have?

On June 16, (AMZN 2.07%) announced that it had reached an agreement to buy Whole Foods Market (WFM) for $42 per share. Though Amazonsaw enough potential in the grocery chain to pay almost $14 billion, it has yet to finalize its plans for the integration.

In this segment from Industry Focus: Consumer Goods, Vincent Shen is joined by senior contributor Adam Levine-Weinberg as they look at several ways that Amazon could use Whole Foods as a platform to grow its business. There are many opportunities, and the potential synergies are enormous.

A full transcript follows the video.

This video was recorded on June 20, 2017.

Vincent Shen: Keep in mind, for Whole Foods stock, it shed about 50% since hitting its all-time high in late 2013. It's lagged the market for several years now. So this is probably a bit of an unexpected surprise for shareholders, but at $42 per share, Amazon is paying about 31 times trailing earnings for the company. You have, ultimately, if you really boil it down, you've had a struggling company, weak results recently, but a very strong brand. What do you think about the deal that Amazon is getting?

Adam Levine-Weinberg: I think it's certainly paying a pretty high earnings multiple. But I think it actually makes sense for Amazon in that it does pry this foothold, where now they have hundreds of stores, it'll still be under the Whole Foods brand but under that corporate umbrella. And there's a number of ways that they can get this into the Amazon ecosystem and create a lot more value than they're getting just from being stand-alone Whole Foods stores. Just a few of the things that you can think of, how could this help Amazon, for one thing, Whole Foods has a pretty highly regarded private brand, the 365 brand, which it sells in its stores and in the new 365 Market stores that Whole Foods has opened, which are targeted toward more price sensitive consumers. So you could easily see Amazon taking those items, saying, "You know what? We're going to make them available on" Huge increase in distribution and market penetration potentially. That's one way to merge the Whole Foods brand and Amazon's e-commerce business. Other things that you could see happening here, certainly you could put Amazon lockers in Whole Foods stores. If you want a way to drive more traffic into the store to increase sales at Whole Foods, and also provide better ways for people to pick up items, that's a great way to do it.

It also might make it more feasible for Amazon to get into grocery pickup options, have some stuff shipped directly from Amazon to a locker in a Whole Foods. And the fresh items are kept in the Whole Foods refrigerated sections. There's just a huge number of options. You could have free grocery delivery from Whole Foods for Prime members, you could have discounted prices at Whole Foods, a blanket discount for Prime members. There's a lot of things that Amazon could do with Whole Foods. And really, there's a story in the Wall Street Journal very recently talking about just how quickly this deal came together, and as a result, basically, it was in six weeks from when they first met with Amazon to when they finalized the deal. So Amazon hasn't really figured out its strategy for Whole Foods, other than it sees a lot of opportunity, and is willing to make the investment necessary to capture that opportunity. So no firm plans from Amazon on what's going to happen, but you can see there's a lot of options for how Amazon can monetize Whole Foods. The fact that it's paying a bit of a generous multiple is not that big of a deal. For Amazon, capital is very cheap right now. They can raise debt at a very low price. They have an extremely long time horizon, as most investors understand.

John Mackey, CEO of Whole Foods Market, is a member of The Motley Fool’s board of directors. Adam Levine-Weinberg has no position in any stocks mentioned. Vincent Shen has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Amazon and Whole Foods Market. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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