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Whole Foods forecasts key sales figure could slip for year

Whole Foods Market Inc. says its sales will be flat to down 2 percent for the year. | AP file photo

AUSTIN, Texas — Whole Foods Market Inc. says its sales at established locations slipped in its fiscal first quarter, and forecast the figure to be flat to down 2 percent for the year.

The Austin, Texas company noted that its comparable store sales have been “particularly difficult to predict” given the competitive environment. Whole Foods has been under pressure as organic foods and products marketed as natural have become increasingly mainstream, with big-box retailers such as Target and Wal-Mart devoting more space to such items. Sales fell at 1.8 percent at established locations for the three months ending Jan. 17, the company said.

Whole Foods, which has more than 430 locations in the U.S., Canada and the United Kingdom, says it still sees potential for 1,200 locations in just the U.S. A newer branch of “365” stores it is opening that focuses more heavily on value can expand on that footprint, the company says.

For the three months ended Jan. 17, Whole Foods said it earned $157 million, or 46 cents per share. That was more than the 40 cents per share analysts expected, according to Zacks Investment Research.

Total revenue was $4.83 billion in the period, above the $4.81 Wall Street expected.

Whole Foods shares have dropped 14 percent since the beginning of the year, while the Standard & Poor’s 500 index has declined slightly more than 9 percent. In the final minutes of trading on Wednesday, shares hit $28.87, a decrease of 46 percent in the last 12 months.