U.S. consumers' penny-pinching ways made for a major theme in 2011. Despite skittish consumers, Whole Foods Market (Nasdaq: WFM) has managed an achievement many would have doubted a year ago: stellar financial results.

Let's take a look backwards and compare Whole Foods' financial achievements to several grocery rivals.

Company

Revenue Gain (Loss) %

Earnings (Loss) Per Share

Gross Profit Margin %

Total Debt-to-Capital Ratio

Whole Foods 12.2% $1.93 35.0% 0.6%
Safeway (NYSE: SWY) 4.6% $1.48 28.6% 52.5%
Kroger (NYSE: KR) 10.3% $1.93 21.7% 61.1%
SUPERVALU (NYSE: SVU) (4.5%) $0.13 22.6% 81.9%
Ruddick (NYSE: RDK) 4.5% $2.28 29.6% 24.5%

Source: S&P Capital IQ; figures for the trailing 12 months.

As you can see, Whole Foods is the hands-down leader in handsome profit margin; it also generated impressive top-line growth. Even better, Whole Foods' increased its same-store sales by an impressive 8.5% in its fiscal year ended September 2011.

With the exception of Ruddick (which owns and operates the Harris Teeter grocery store chain), you can see the other grocery peers named above are too indebted for comfort. Whole Foods has paid down its debt, putting it in an even better position for growth in 2012.

On the other hand, Whole Foods' impressive financial results have resulted in a premium stock price. Whole Foods trades at 27 times forward earnings, far higher than the other grocery stocks named above. Although Whole Foods' PEG ratio of 1.66 may not sound like a screaming buy, don't be too hasty in believing it to be incredibly overvalued, either. Part of Whole Foods' investment thesis is how much growth is to come, and I believe the organic grocer can exceed expectations over the long haul. This is no run-of-the-mill, conventional company, after all.

When it comes to simple retail footprint, Whole Foods predicts that it can open 1,000 stores in the U.S. alone over the long haul, compared with approximately 300 now. The success of Whole Foods' brand positioning in the organic, gourmet, and healthy-eating niches help back up an extremely bullish case scenario for this food retailing pioneer.

As this successful year draws to a close, there's no reason for investors to lose their appetite for Whole Foods. Companies that can excel in times like these show their competitive edge, and Whole Foods' is sharp.

If Whole Foods shares don't tempt your palate, you could always check out this special free report, which reveals two cash kings of retail. In it, Foolish investors will uncover two companies that are growing revenue despite soft consumer spending and overall economic uncertainty. These two companies are at the forefront of fundamental changes in retail. The report is free, but it won't be forever, so click here to access it now.

This article represents the opinion of the writer, who may disagree with the “official” recommendation position of a Motley Fool premium advisory service. We’re motley! Questioning an investing thesis -- even one of our own -- helps us all think critically about investing and make decisions that help us become smarter, happier, and richer.