Whole Foods (WFM) might be trying to fight against its cheaper rivals via its 365 value chain, but according to Goldman Sachs, it’s too little, too late.
A team of Goldman analysts led by Stephen Tanal wrote a scathing note Tuesday downgrading the natural food chain’s stock to “Sell” with a 12-month price target of $31, a 10% downside from the current share price.
“Whole Foods is experiencing a competitive barrage, losing share in its core natural and organic business to a variety of players including Costco, Kroger, and to a lesser extent, Sprouts Farmers Market,” the analysts wrote. “Wellness has gone mass, and it is not coming back, never again to be relegated to niche specialty retailers serving price-insensitive, early adopters.”
Not only are the products similar, but those conventional grocers, warehouse clubs, and low-price organic stores all have locations near a Whole Foods. Goldman noted that Target overlaps with Whole Foods in 97% of its markets, while Trader Joe’s overlaps in 79%. (The analysts are factoring in both a chain’s locations and its demographic market.)
Moreover, Goldman noted, most Whole Foods locations have been built in high-density, affluent areas—leaving them exposed to competition from both online rivals and the competitors mentioned above.
Not all analysts share Goldman’s pessimism. A team from Credit Suisse recently noted that Whole Foods has addressed some of its problems and has begun to open up shops in lower income areas. Credit Suisse also believes that the cheaper 365 chain will help the company navigate a competitive landscape.
To an extent, Goldman agreed: 365 is the key to Whole Foods’ turnaround, but whether the grocery chain can properly execute it is another matter.
“If 365 were to gain traction, and Whole Foods market were to communicate a clear and cohesive strategy for the concept (financial information, target markets, growth strategy and goals), we could become more constructive on the long-term outlook for the company,” the team wrote. However, “without a clear strategy and intent, and with just two stores today, 365 appears too small to ‘move the needle’.”