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Whole Foods grocery store worker Tim Owen in the produce section of the store in Ann Arbor, Mich. Whole Foods has only 345 stores in the U.S., Canada and the U.K. Management’s goal is to reach 1,000 stores. (Rebecca Cook/REUTERS)
Whole Foods grocery store worker Tim Owen in the produce section of the store in Ann Arbor, Mich. Whole Foods has only 345 stores in the U.S., Canada and the U.K. Management’s goal is to reach 1,000 stores. (Rebecca Cook/REUTERS)

Strategy Lab

Whole Foods Market: How a healthier diet can nourish your portfolio Add to ...

Chris Umiastowski is the growth investor for Globe Investor’s Strategy Lab. Follow his contributions here and view his model portfolio here.

Today I’m shifting away from the technology industry to discuss another stock that I’ll be adding to my portfolio. This time it goes in my personal portfolio since my Strategy Lab model portfolio doesn’t have space for any new buys quite yet.

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Unusually for me, it’s a health care stock – at least if you define health care, as I do, to include all the things that you put into your body.

Like lots of other people, I’m increasingly aware of where food originates. I have spent a lot of time learning more about what I feed myself and my family. So even though I’m known as a technology guy, the food industry makes sense for me to invest in, given the right stock.

To see where I’m coming from, pick up a copy of Michael Pollan’s well-researched book The Omnivore’s Dilemma. Read it and you’ll realize why so many experts believe that obesity is the leading cause of health problems – one that leads to sales of pharmaceuticals with side effects that lead to even more health problems.

The obvious solution is to eat a healthy diet. Most people, though, don’t realize the risks that come from ingesting massive quantities of processed carbohydrates (including sweeteners) and other ingredients that make up the bulk of the North American diet.

For some quick insight, try Googling the phrases “factory farming” or CAFO (concentrated animal feeding operation). You’ll see why so many folks want to avoid beef that is raised on a diet of corn and soy and stuffed full of antibiotics.

How do you invest in this industry? Some investors feel comfortable buying a stock like Monsanto Co., which specializes in herbicides, pesticides and genetic engineering of corn, soy and other seeds. It makes a lot of money from what many consider to be a legal but morally questionable business. Monsanto recently hit a 52-week high and there’s no question the company’s stock performance has trounced the S&P 500 ever since its IPO in 2000.

Personally, I would rather invest in something that feels healthier. For my dollars, I prefer Whole Foods Market Inc., a grocery chain that specializes in healthier food choices.

You may also know the grocer by its nickname, Whole Paycheck. Many folks believe the natural and organic foods sold at Whole Foods stores cost too much money. Yet the financial results speak for themselves.

Same-store sales have been expanding 7 per cent to 9 per cent for the last few years, according to S&P Capital IQ. Gross margin has climbed higher, to 35.6 per cent over the last 12 months. Revenue growth has consistently been in the double digits (except for 2009, which we all remember as an economic disaster). Earnings per share has climbed significantly faster than revenue, reaching $2.52 (U.S.) in fiscal 2012.

Granted, the stock isn’t cheap based on price to earnings. At about $86, it trades at 34 times last year’s earnings. But I’m not scared off by the P/E multiple. This company has a tremendous amount of growth left.

Whole Foods has only 345 stores in the U.S., Canada and the U.K. Management’s goal is to reach 1,000 stores. I have no doubt they can do it without saturating the market.

Speaking of management, I like that the company’s co-CEO, John Mackey, is also co-founder of the company, having opened the first store in 1980. This is a strong, stable company led by a visionary executive.

Analysts peg earnings per share to surpass $4 in fiscal 2015. I think the estimates are pretty reasonable.

Whole Foods’ financial results show that there are a significant number of people who are willing to pay more money for higher-quality food. These are people who place value in organic produce, grass-fed beef, non-genetically modified grains and products that don’t carry dangerous hydrogenated oils. These people don’t want factory-farmed and processed food.

I’d much rather join the healthy eaters than argue with them. I think of my health as a long-term investment, just like a stock. Whole Foods fits into my investing basket very nicely.

 

 

 
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