Activists take stake in Whole Foods

Barry Rosenstein's activist fund wants the $11 bln grocer to shake up management and the board, boost profit and explore a sale.

Despite having one of the best brands in food retail, until Whole Foods' prices come down (its earnings will likely follow), Goldman expects further market share losses "no matter what an activist helps improve elsewhere in the business".

While the stock has underperformed of late, and there could be more upside as a result, J.P. Morgan analyst Ken Goldman noted that Whole Foods is already trading at 26x next 12 month P/E and almost 9x EV to EBITDA.

Whole Foods Market (WFM) jumped to the top of the S&P 500 Monday.

Other investors named in the filing include former Safeway EVP Diane Dietz, and Mark Bittman, the noted food journalist. The stock had been up 1 percent this year through the end of last week.

The filing also disclosed that Jana plans to "internalize grocery distribution and limit the influence of its primary wholesale distribution partner", United Natural Foods Inc UNFI.O , which in turn relies on Whole Foods for about a third of its sales.

The group said it acquired the shares because it believes they are "undervalued and represent an attractive investment opportunity". Its same-store sales - a key benchmark - have declined for six straight quarters.

A Whole Foods spokeswoman shared with WSJ that the company "is open to the views and opinions of all of our shareholders", adding, "we are committed to driving value for all Whole Foods Market shareholders and will continue to act to achieve this important objective". For years before the company's purchase of organic food producer Wild Oats, Mackey used the alias "Rahodeb", an anagram of his wife's name, to post comments on web forums praising Whole Foods and criticizing Wild Oats.

To regain footing in the marketplace, Whole Foods in recent years has offered coupons and discounts, launched its first-ever television marketing campaign and began selling conventional produce as a cheaper alternative to organic fruits and vegetables.

Jana has lined up a potential slate of board nominees, the people said, four months before the deadline to launch a board fight.

Whole Foods operates 441 stores in the USA, 12 stores in Canada and 9 stores in the UK.

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