3 Reasons Whole Foods Market Inc.'s Stock Could Rise

Two decades ago, investors scoffed at the idea that people would pay a premium to buy food that was certified organic. "They simply don't care," the naysayers quipped. But Whole Foods Market co-founder and co-CEO John Mackey knew better.

Between the depths of the Great Recession and last October, investors who bet on Mackey's strategy were sitting on an unbelievable return of 1,560%. Since last October, however, fortunes haven't been nearly as good, with shares losing 40% of their value.

Source: USDA, Organic Trade Association. Figures in millions. 2012 figures are estimates.

However, as of 2012, organic food sales, though they had grown rapidly, accounted for less than 5% of all food purchases in the United States.

Source: USDA, Organic Trade Association. Figures in millions. 2012 figures are estimates.

That means there's still tons of room for growth. This is particularly true for fruits, vegetables, dairy products, and meats, all of which are particularly popular among purchasers of organic goods.

Pricing the competition out

Part of the reason investors have been so worried about Whole Foods' prospects has to do with shrinking margins. As I've shown before, Whole Foods enjoys margins that are the envy of the industry.

Management has said for a number of quarters now that it is "investing in price." That's industry speak for "selling food for lower prices." Obviously -- all things being equal -- that means Whole Foods' profit will come down.

But that's a short-term view, and all things are not equal. While Wal-Mart could likely compete on the price of some goods, its customer base is distinctly different than Whole Foods'. Instead, I think Sprouts, Natural Grocers, and other upstarts will find it increasingly difficult to beat Whole Foods on price and/or selection. Over the long run, that means Whole Foods grabs more share of what is -- this is the key-- a rapidly growing market.

So even if margins come down, volume should take off in the long run.

Rapid expansion

For a long time, Whole Foods stated that its goal was to establish 1,000 stores stateside. But last December that number was upped to 1,200. (It currently has 388 stores.) More important, however, was the recent announcement that the pace of expansion would pick up rapidly.

Whole Foods already has far more locations than its closest pure-play competition.

Source: SEC filings.

When you combine its pricing power, the larger selection that Whole Foods offers, and the fact that it has a large and expanding footprint across the country, the company has a great chance to gain an increasing share in the ever-expanding market for natural and organic foods.

The takeaway for investors

It will take a while for Whole Foods' lower prices to filter down to everyday consumers. Investors shouldn't expect an immediate turnaround in the stock price.

Long-term investors, though, should have no problem waiting to see how this story plays out. If things go according to plan, there's a good chance they'll be rewarded for their patience.

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The article 3 Reasons Whole Foods Market Inc.'s Stock Could Rise originally appeared on

John Mackey, co-CEO of Whole Foods Market, is a member of The Motley Fool's board of directors. Brian Stoffel owns shares of Whole Foods Market. The Motley Fool recommends The Fresh Market and 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 .

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The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.

The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.

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