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Whole Foods to pay $565M for Wild Oats

SHARE Whole Foods to pay $565M for Wild Oats

DALLAS — Whole Foods Market Inc. said Wednesday it will pay $565 million for Wild Oats Markets Inc., a chain of natural and organic food markets in the United States and Canada.

Shares of Wild Oats jumped 17 percent in extended trading after the deal was announced.

Whole Foods executives said they approached Wild Oats because they sensed a "strategic gap" after the smaller company lost its chief executive and chief financial officer.

"I called up their interim CEO," said Whole Foods founder and CEO John Mackey. "I thought, gosh, maybe this would be a good time to approach Wild Oats."

Mackey said Wild Oats Chairman and interim CEO Gregory Mays told him, "What's your price going to be?" He said the deal came together in a couple weeks.

Shares of Wild Oats dipped 6 cents to $15.72 in regular trading on the Nasdaq Stock Market before the announcement. In late trading, they jumped $2.72, or 17.3 percent.

Whole Foods shares followed a similar pattern. They fell 37 cents to $45.70 in regular Nasdaq trading but gained $2.39, or 5.2 percent, in extended trading. News of the sale apparently trumped Whole Foods' announcement, also after stock markets closed, that its profit declined in the quarter ended Jan. 14.

Whole Foods said it would pay $18.50 in cash per share for Wild Oats and assume the rival's debt, reported to be $106 million as of Sept. 30.

Austin-based Whole Foods said it would borrow to finance the deal.

Wild Oats has annual sales of about $1.2 billion and operates 110 stores in 24 states and British Columbia, Canada.

In October, the company's chief executive stepped down and was replaced by Mays. The company's CFO left in December to go back to his old job with a wholesale food distributor. The management changes prompted at least one Wall Street analyst to downgrade the company's stock.

Wild Oats, based in Boulder, Colo., announced recently that it would close eight stores, including one in West Jordan, and take a charge of $25.5 million.

The stores are smaller than most Whole Foods locations, with about half the sales per square foot. Whole Foods executives said they believe they can lift sales per square foot close to the level of their own stores.

"These guys were definitely getting better," Mackey said. "A year from now, we'll definitely be seeing very good progress" in lifting sales at the Wild Oats stores.

Whole Foods earned quarterly profit of $53.8 million, or 38 cents per share, in the period ended Jan. 14, down from its profit of $58.3 million, or 40 cents per share, a year earlier. Analysts had expected profit of 41 cents per share, according to a survey by Thomson Financial.

Its revenue increased 12 percent to $1.87 billion from $1.67 billion a year earlier. Same-store sales, a key measure in retailing, rose 7 percent.