AUSTIN, TX-Whole Foods Market plans 15 to 18 stores next year and has 53 units under development, company officials said yesterday during their Q4 conference call. Of the future stores in its pipeline, 21 are in new markets and 22 compete directly with rival chain Wild Oats, they said.

In all, Whole Foods has 2.6 million sf of space under development, a 61% increase from the square footage the company had in the pipeline during the same period last year. The 53 stores under development are up from the 35 the natural goods grocer was planning last year.

Executives also said the retailer could soon announce its first Whole Foods store in central London. At the beginning of the year the company acquired the seven-store UK-based chain Fresh & Wild for $20 million, but those units are just 5,000 sf to 7,000 sf in size, said AC Gallo, Whole Foods’ co-president. “There is nothing in natural foods market over there I terms of having larger stores with very broad selections,” he said.

During its last quarter the company opened stores in Princeton, NJ; Valencia, CA; and West Vancouver, BC. Whole Foods signed leases in the existing markets of Denver; Long Island, NY; New York City; Sacramento, CA; Santa Barbara, CA; Seattle; and Tustin, CA. The retailer also signed a lease in a new market, Greenville, SC.

During its Q4, Whole Foods set a new company record with a 14.9% same-store sales increase over the same year-ago period. Officials predicted a year-over-year same-store sales jump of 8% to 10% over the next fiscal year. The company also saw its net income rise 27%, to $30.2 million during the quarter.

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