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This Could Mean Trouble for Whole Foods Market, Inc.

By Motley Fool Staff - May 17, 2016 at 10:00AM

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Highlights from this quarter’s earnings report and why the healthy food space is getting harder and harder to compete in.

Sometimes a company's earnings report does not offer the simple answers investors are looking for.

That's certainly the case with Whole Foods (WFM) recent quarter where the data could be interpreted in different ways depending on each analyst's view of the supermarket chain. As is often the case, there were good signs and some troubling ones, but not as clear a picture as quarterly numbers can at times offer.

In this segment from the Motley Fool Money radio show, Chris Hill, Ron Gross, and Jason Moser talk about Whole Foods' earnings report, which had a little bit of everything -- some growth, some drops, some plateaus. Also, they look at some big trouble Whole Foods will likely face as healthy food becomes more popular and widely available and how the stock looks today from a valuation standpoint.

A transcript follows the video.

This podcast was recorded on May 6, 2016. 

Chris Hill: Shares of Whole Foods up this week after second-quarter profits came in higher than expected, but same-store sales were actually down. John Mackey, co-CEO, sits on the board of directors here at The Motley Fool. I feel like this was a Rorschach test quarter. Depending on what you feel about the company, you could find something you liked or didn't like.

Ron Gross: It's a competitive market out there, and they're really continuing to struggle. 2% traffic decline, almost a 1% basket size decline. They're attempting to discount news promotions to help the business. But they're struggling. So they're really turning to this new 365 store chain concept to try to revive things.

They had to cut full year guidance, sales, and profits. They did buy back a lot of stock. They continue to do that, and I applaud that. But times are tough. They're struggling.

Hill: Did they give any color on when they're going to start rolling out the 365 stores, and how quickly?

Gross: We'll see the first one this month in May. They've signed 19 leases so far. That's probably just the very beginning. I expect to see a lot of them. But they'll go slow, test it, and see how it works. But I'm hopeful that this will revive them. At least, let's see how it goes, but I'm hopeful.

Jason Moser: Whole Foods is always at this premium -- I mean mega premium -- multiple in the market, because there was a lot of growth, they were doing something a little bit different. And we've noted how, over the past few years, the competition has ratcheted up, and more and more stores are really offering all of the same kind of stuff.

I can't help but wonder if this isn't the kind of space that's going to go the way of your drugstores, like CVS and WalgreensRite Aid, maybe, to a lesser degree, where it becomes less about where you get it, as far as the brand you're buying it from, and more about what's most convenient. Is it easier for me to get it from store A on the way home, or go a little bit out of my way to store B? I think, at the end of the day, all things being equal, it's a bit more about convenience. 

And on that note, I do think it's important that Whole Foods is growing out their relationship with Instacart for delivery and things like that. We'll see more and more of that stuff, I think, as time goes on, too.

Gross: I will say, since the stock has been relatively weak, certainly over the last year, down almost 40%, if they can figure this out, the stock looks relatively inexpensive here. Maybe six or seven times EBITDA at the moment. I'm in a wait-and-see mode. I'm a current shareholder now, and I'm not adding. But the stock is not expensive, so it could be interesting.

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