* Currently has around 300 U.S. stores
* Sees opportunity in Canada, where it plans 35 stores
LOS ANGELES, June 21 Whole Foods Market Inc
(WFM.O) expects to one day have 1,000 stores in the United
States, up from around 300 currently, co-Chief Executive Walter
Robb said on Tuesday.
The upscale grocer is bullish on Canada and expects to
increase its store count there from six currently to 35, Robb
said at the Jefferies 2011 Global Consumer Conference on
He added that the company's flagship store in Britain
recently turned cash-flow positive. As of April 10, Whole Foods
had five stores in that market.
The upheaval in the commercial property market has created
opportunities for companies looking to expand, and Whole Foods
has identified locations where it "can put some bets down and
take advantage of that," Robb said.
This time around, the chain has left itself flexibility
room to exit leases should the economy significantly worsen, he
"We have some contingency plans so that if we needed to, we
could slow down," said Robb, who added that leases now include
exit and buyout clauses.
Robb said Whole Foods would give more detail on growth
plans on the company's next quarterly earnings call.
After stumbling badly during the recession, Whole Foods is
now outperforming other grocery sellers.
The largest seller of natural and organic foods in the
United States has lowered prices, cleaned up its balance sheet
and sharpened its focus on health.
Robb said the company -- which is gaining market share --
is now debt free and generating good free cash flow.
Whole Foods plans to use some of its cash to speed up store
openings. It also is looking at a dividend and contemplating
share buybacks, though the latter is a lower priority, Robb
As part of its health and wellness initiatives, Whole Foods
also plans to open five wellness clubs in different cities
around the United States.
For a monthly membership fee of around $50, members will
get things like store discounts and access to supper clubs. The
company also has hired medical doctors who have worked up a
curriculum for the clubs and offer some services.
Robb called the investment in wellness club test "minor" at
less than $5 million company-wide.
(Reporting by Lisa Baertlein; Editing by Derek Caney)