Whole Foods shares drop on weak guidance, sales

Whole Foods Market reported earnings that beat analysts' expectations on Wednesday, but shares plunged as quarterly revenue and comparable store sales trailed Wall Street estimates.

The company posted fiscal third-quarter earnings of 41 cents per share, up from 38 cents a share in the year-earlier period. Revenue increased to $3.38 billion, from $3.06 billion a year ago.

Wall Street had expected Whole Foods Market to deliver earnings of 39 cents a share on $3.39 billion in revenue, according to a consensus estimate from Thomson Reuters.

A customer in the produce section of a Whole Foods Market branch in New York City.
Lonely Planet Images | Getty Images

Looking forward, the retailer said it expects fiscal 2014 sales growth of between 9.6 percent and 9.9 percent, versus Wall Street expectations of 11 percent revenue growth for the fiscal year, according to a consensus estimate from Thomson Reuters.

Shares dropped as much as 8 percent in extended-hours trading.

An organic produce sign stands over a display in the produce department of a Kroger supermarket in Peoria, Illinois.
The unsustainability of organic farming

Same-store sales rose 3.9 percent during the quarter versus expectations of a 4.8 percent increase in comp-store sales, according to a consensus estimate from Consensus Metrix.

The company forecast fourth-quarter sales growth of between 8.5 percent and 9.5 percent, compared with analysts expectations of 12 percent, according to a consensus estimate from Thomson Reuters.

The specialty retailer also lowered its full year comparable store sales growth forecast to a range of 4.1 to 4.4 percent, down from a previously announced range of 5 to 5.5 percent.

Even still, the company said it expects capital returns on investment to increase in the long run.

"We are seeing signs of stability in our sales trends and believe our strategic initiatives will help generate further momentum and produce increasing returns on invested capital over the long term," said Walter Robb, co-chief executive officer, in a statement.

Whole Foods previously said it would become the first U.S. retailer to label or eliminate foods made with genetically modified ingredients, a move that could help it stand out from rival grocers as competition within the natural and organic space continues to expand.

Whole Foods' stock, which peaked in October, has been hammered in recent months amid concerns about slower growth at the chain. As of Wednesday's close, shares had dropped more than 30 percent over the last 12 months.

—By CNBC's Karma Allen