Natural-food shares are volatile but tasty

Your Money

September 24, 2006|By Andrew Leckey | Andrew Leckey,Tribune Media Services

Companies specializing in natural food products have had some banner years and Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and other major chains are getting into the business.

Stock of Wild Oats Markets Inc., a nationwide chain of more than 100 natural foods stores, is up 33 percent this year, after an increase of 37 percent last year.

Stock of Hain Celestial Group Inc., a distributor of natural foods and cooking oils, is up 26 percent this year. United Natural Foods, which distributes 40,000 products to a wide variety of stores, is up 19 percent in 2006.

Whole Foods Market Inc., the largest U.S. retailer of natural and organic foods, with nearly 200 stores, has long been the superstar in the natural food sector.

But although Whole Foods stock gained 62 percent last year, it is down 25 percent this year. Net income rose by one-third in its recent quarter but missed Wall Street estimates.

But all of these stocks can be volatile - Wild Oats declined 32 percent in 2004 and United Natural fell 15 percent last year.

Andrew Leckey writes for Tribune Media Services.

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