Whole Foods Market announced Wednesday that it would be closing nine stores and three commissary kitchens before the end of the quarter in an effort to combat falling sales. This is the largest number of stores that Whole Foods Market has ever announced closing at once.
The announcement was made after the chain's sixth straight quarter of same-store sale declines. The Chicago Tribune calls this the store’s “worst sales slump in more than a decade.”
The majority of the stores slated for closure were smaller, older acquisitions, according to CEO John Mackey, a co-founder of the company who retook sole leadership last year. They include two each in Colorado and California, as well as stores in Chicago, New Mexico, Utah, Arizona, and Georgia.
Whole Foods Market has been experimenting with lowering prices in order to better compete with conventional supermarkets like Wal-Mart and Kroger, which have been increasing their organic offerings in recent years. The chain has also opened the 365 by Whole Foods Market chain, a cheaper, trendier version of the original, to woo customers with less expensive organic offerings.
Mackey noted on a call with investors Wednesday that the chain's prices “can’t have too big of a gap [with regards to competitors] or people will feel like we’re trying to take advantage of them.”
“The more conventional, mainstream supermarkets have upped their game,” he said. “The world is very different today than it was five years ago.”
Last year, Whole Foods Market said it saw the potential to reach more than 1,200 stores in the U.S., a goal that it is now “abandoning,” according to the Chicago Tribune. The chain still has approximately 80 stores in development and opened thirteen, including two relocations, in the first quarter. It expects to open six more in the second quarter, including two relocations.
"We're going to continue to grow, but I think we're going to be a more disciplined growth company than we have been in the past," said Mackey.
Whole Foods Market currently operates 448 stores in the U.S.
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