Investors viewed United Natural Foods (NASDAQ:UNFI) as an unhealthy investment today, pushing the stock down as much as 19% after the organic food supplier warned it will come in shy of profit expectations. Has the outlook for soy soured, or have investors jumped the gun on a day when some negative sentiment haunts the stock market?

United Natural said it now anticipates earnings of $0.93 to $0.97 per share for fiscal year 2005, as compared to the previous expectation for earnings of $0.98 per share. Among other things, the shortfall is blamed on higher medical costs.

Meanwhile, though, revenues are still looking healthy, with the company expecting sales growth of 17% to 22%, to between $1.9 billion to $2.0 billion. Meanwhile, the company still insists it will bring about earnings growth of 25% to 26% from fiscal 2004. Despite the disappointment, that kind of earnings growth is enough to make any long-term investor proud.

The outlook doesn't change the overall business climate for United Natural Foods, at least not so far as we know at the moment. United Natural supplies goods to two "supernaturals," Wild Oats (NASDAQ:OATS) and Whole Foods Market (NASDAQ:WFMI). Last we heard, United Natural's renewed agreement with Wild Oats helped brighten its outlook.

Not so long ago, Fool contributor W.D. Crotty explored the idea that the natural and organic food industry is a healthy and growing one, a space investors might consider when taking into account the troubled times facing traditional, non-niche grocery retailers like Safeway (NYSE:SWY), Kroger (NYSE:KR), and Albertsons (NYSE:ABS).

In addition to the $0.02 per-share earnings hit from medical costs, United Natural also mentioned upcoming costs and capital expenditures. On the downside, there was some degree of evasiveness as to how much "special items" might pare down its earnings outlook, including labor, moving, and other costs associated with expanding its distribution facilities.

On the other hand, for all intents and purposes, it sounds like the company is preparing for a wave of positive times for healthy and organic goods and taking the opportunity to expand. Between fiscal 2005 and fiscal 2007, United Natural said it plans $100 million to $125 million in capital expenditures, with $35 million to $38 million planned in 2005. It said it plans to invest in people, facilities, equipment, and new technology.

When it comes to the earnings shortfall, it seems like investors doled out overly steep punishment at this time. At today's lowest point, it represented the lowest level the stock has seen since May. It's arguable that today's United Natural price tag represented an opportunity that hasn't been seen in quite some time.

Whole Foods Market was once a Motley Fool Stock Advisor pick. What is currently on the roster? Try it for six months, risk-free. Or, if you'd rather just chat about natural foods and healthy alternatives, talk to Fools with similar interests on the Health and Nutrition discussion board.

Alyce Lomax does not own shares of any of the companies mentioned.