How Lousy Weather Could Affect Whole Foods Even More

NEW YORK (TheStreet) - Winter weather could hit Whole Foods Market (WFM) in the gut when the organic grocery chain reports first-quarter earnings on Wednesday.

Wall Street consensus numbers are calling for the Austin, Texas-based company to report earnings per share of 44 cents on revenue of $4.29 billion, up 11% from the year-earlier quarter, according to Thomson Reuters.

Investors have already been concerned over Whole Foods slowing sales growth numbers, owing it to growing competition in the organic and specialty food space from the likes of Fairway Market (FWM), Sprouts (SFM), Fresh Market (TFM), privately-held Trader Joes and even Kroger (KR).

WFM Chart WFM data by YCharts

However, shares of Whole Foods have held in over the past six months, while Fairway, Sprouts and Fresh Market have also lost significant share.

Whole Foods shares are down 0.43% over the last six months. Shares of Sprouts are down 11%, Fresh Market is down 41%, while Fairway is down 68% since Aug. 9, 2013. Fairway went public last April.

Whole Foods already lowered its expectations for 2014 sales growth in November, forecasting growth between 11% and 13% down from 12% to 14%, previously. It also said that comparable store sales for the year were expected to range between 5.5% and 7%, down from 6.5% and 8%, previously.

Multiple snowstorms of late across regions where many Whole Foods stores are located are likely to have impacted not only first-quarter earnings but second quarter as well, which could force the company to further cut its outlook.

Whole Foods announced last week that it had acquired the leases of seven Safeway (SWY) locations in Chicago that were formerly operated under the Dominick's brand. The company expects the locations to remain closed for remodeling in 2014 and re-open as new Whole Foods Market stores in 2015.

The company said last week that the transaction is expected to be "slightly dilutive" to 2014 earnings, however analysts are expecting earnings dilution to be higher than that.

That said, adding on to the growing mobile payments trend, Whole Foods announced early Tuesday that it has partnered with Square to bring Square Register and Square Stand to select Whole Foods stores around the country. Users also can use their smartphones to pay with Square Wallet, making shopping for goods that much easier, faster and convenient.

"We know shoppers are relying more and more on technology for their purchases," Whole Food's co-CEO Walter Robb said in a statement. "Square's focus on improving and simplifying commerce opens up tremendous opportunities to evolve our customer experience."

Whole Foods will report after the bell on Wednesday.

Here's what analysts are saying:

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