Whole Foods (NASDAQ:WFM) touts itself as the leading retailer of natural and organic foods. The company operates 374 stores predominately in the US, with operations in Canada and the UK as well, though only 3.3% of sales came from Canada and the UK in 2013. Wal-Mart (NYSE:WMT) on the other hand operates stores in 26 countries outside the US and had 41% of sales outside the US in 2013. This represents untapped potential for growth for Whole Foods and will add further diversification when expansion takes place. A slowdown in sales in one region can be softened when operations are exposed to multiple economies. Whole Foods has yet to come close to Wal-Mart's breadth of locations in the US, let alone the rest of the world. Whole Foods may be viewed as more risky in its current state, but this may lead to higher potential returns in the future.

Whole Foods appeals to a wide range of social classes and is only gaining more traction as people become more aware to the importance of healthy eating on overall well-being. Whole Foods is poised to gain as the millennial generation grows older and gains more purchasing power and disposable income. One could argue that Wal-Mart has been hit hard in the news in recent years as consumers see them as corporate bullies who take advantage of their scale and size, sell sub-par products, and do not appeal image-wise to the younger millennials. Whole Foods appeals to the current food trends of eating locally, knowing where your food comes from, and selling food without unnecessary or unsafe additives. 

Shopping experience
Wal-Mart provides a one-stop shopping experience for consumers with groceries, clothing, outdoor supplies, automotive, and an array of other products. Whole Foods offers shoppers groceries in what it calls a destination. CEO John Mackey says, "Grocery shopping for the longest time was a chore people did, like taking out the garbage or doing laundry – something you had to do but something you didn't really look forward to." You do not see customers going to have breakfast, buy their groceries, and then having a drink when they're done at Wal-Mart do you? This can be done at Whole-Foods. Customers are provided an experience to make them excited about the products they are buying which will hopefully make them stay in stores longer.  This comes as no surprise, but the longer customers stay in stores, the more they will spend.

First-mover advantage and the competition
Whole Foods has been credited with popularizing the healthy, organic, and natural food products segment. When consumers want to shop for this kind of product, Whole Foods is one of the biggest names. It is not called the first-mover advantage for nothing; their name has become synonymous with this category and that provides brand recognition and customer loyalty that is hard to shake. The competition has been taking notice of the appeal and growth of this category of foods.  Wal-Mart's offerings of natural and organic foods have been increasing along with other grocery chains. Their offerings amount to only an isle or two of natural organic foods, but not whole stores. 

Foolish takeaway
Foolish investors would be wise to consider global consumer trends when looking at these two grocers. Whole Foods is barely a blip on the map compared to Wal-Mart's global reach which represents an opportunity. Whole Foods appeals to the growing millennial generation whose income will only increase along with the move to healthier eating. This article examines a long-term case for the appeal of Whole Foods based on ideas and trends. Investors should incorporate this kind of thinking into investment decisions, while also incorporating company financials. Whole Foods represents an opportunity to get in on a great company with massive growth potential.

John Mackey, co-CEO of Whole Foods Market, is a member of The Motley Fool’s board of directors. Zach Friesner has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends Whole Foods Market. The Motley Fool owns shares of Whole Foods Market. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.