With 329 stores operating at the end of July and with estimated store openings rising from 25 in 2012 to 33-38 in 2014, natural and organic grocer Whole Foods Market is setting ambitious store expansion targets and said that over the long term, 1,000 stores is a reasonable indication of its market opportunity in the United States. The company said the Whole Foods Market brand continues to strengthen, consumer demand for natural and organic products continues to increase, and flexibility on new store size opens up additional market opportunities. WFM believes Canada and the United Kingdom hold great promise as well.

Sales increased 13% to $8.8 billion for the 40-week period ended July 1, 2012, comparable store sales increased 8.8%, and identical store sales, excluding six relocations and three expansions, increased 8.4%. For the 12-week third quarter ended July 1, 2012, sales increased 14% to $2.7 billion, comparable store sales rose 8.2%, and identical store sales were up 8.0%.

The Austin, Texas-based, Whole Foods Market said third quarter net income increased 32% to $116.8 million, and diluted earnings per share increased 27% to $0.63. “In an economic environment that is proving to be difficult for many retailers, we are thriving and pleased to report another quarter of strong growth and excellent results for our stakeholders,” said Walter Robb, co-chief executive officer. “Our accelerated growth plans are on track, and we believe we will continue to gain market share through further differentiating our shopping experience, improving our relative value positioning, and reinforcing our position as America's healthiest grocery store.”

Gross profit increased 62 basis points to 36.0% of sales driven primarily by equal improvements in occupancy costs and cost of goods sold as a percentage of sales. The company opened a record nine new stores, including one relocation, in the third quarter. In the fourth quarter, the company opened one store and expects to open six additional stores, for a total of 25 new stores opened during the fiscal year.

WFM currently has 329 stores totaling approximately 12.5 million square feet. Stores opening in fiscal year 2012 will have an average of 34,000 square feet rising to 37,000 square feet in fiscal year 2014.