It's not every day you see the words "positively impacted by the strike" in an earnings release. But it certainly fits for Whole Foods Market (NASDAQ:WFMI). The natural goods grocer saw a spike in sales at its Southern California units, as shoppers tiptoed around picket lines at traditional supermarket chains like Albertson's (NYSE:ABS), Kroger (NYSE:KR), and Safeway (NYSE:SWY).

Still, highlighting that one event is modesty on Whole Foods' part. Backing out the impacted stores, the company still produced impressive same-store sales growth of 12.8% during its fiscal first quarter. It culminated in a monster of a period for Whole Foods, as earnings per share rose by 45% on a 21% sales spurt.

That's an excellent start to the year after the company saw profits climb 23% higher on an 8.6% uptick in comps in fiscal 2003.

So what's so special about Whole Foods? Isn't this just a blah low-margin business? Isn't every grocer whining about Wal-Mart (NYSE:WMT) swallowing up chunks of market share with its Supercenter concept?

Well, it's different with Whole Foods. For starters, while 3.5% net margins may not seem like much, it's significant in a sector where margins hovers closer to 1%-2%. As for resiliency in the face of Sam Walton's empire of marked-down eats? One could argue that Whole Foods is buffered by the fact that shoppers know, going in, that they will pay a premium for organic and high-quality foods. That goes a long way toward customer retention.

Whole Foods is an attractive oasis in a cutthroat desert, and maybe that's why our own Tom Gardner recommended the stock to readers of Motley Fool Stock Advisor last summer. The company's strong start to its fiscal 2004 and favorable momentum in the current quarter has the company raising its profit targets. Whole Foods is now looking to earn between $1.93 and $2.02 a share this year.

No, that doesn't make the stock cheap at nearly 40 times forward earnings. Then again, like a Whole Foods patron, you sort of know that going in.

Longtime Fool contributor Rick Munarriz doesn't mind soymilk and veggie burgers -- every once in awhile. He does not own shares in any companies mentioned in this story.

Are you a regular shopper at Whole Foods, Wild Oats or your favorite local natural foods grocer? Is organic food really better for you? Are there discernible differences in taste? All this and more -- in the Organic Living discussion board. Only on