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Whole Foods stock sinks after key metric disappoints Street

John Mackey, CEO of Whole Foods Market
Tim Mosenfelder | Getty Images
John Mackey, CEO of Whole Foods Market

Whole Foods reported quarterly earnings and revenue that met analysts' expectations on Wednesday, but a key industry metric disappointed Wall Street.

The company posted fiscal third-quarter earnings at 37 cents per share, which met analysts estimates, down from 43 cents in the year-ago quarter. Revenue for the quarter came in at $3.7 billion, roughly in line with analysts' estimates of $3.73 billion. This was higher than last year's comparable figure of $3.63 billion.

Whole Foods comparable sales declined 2.6 percent, versus estimates for a 2.3 percent drop.

Shares of Whole Foods declined more than 7.8 percent after the news.

Walter Robb, its co-chief executive officer, said the company is seeing encouraging signs in sales and believe its nine-point plan will produce strong returns for shareholders over the long term.

"We are continuing to make measurable progress on fundamentally evolving our business including the successful launch of our new 365 format, expanded value investments, and increased efforts to better understand and provide personalized offers to our customers," he said.

The company is attempting to change consumer perception through its 365 stores. The stores are designed around affordability and convenience, the company said.

But for Joseph Agnese, an S&P Capital IQ analyst, Whole Foods' quarter was a bit disappointing. Agnese cautioned the company has been squeezed by increased competition.

"To compete, Whole Foods has to reduce prices which is putting pressure on their margins," he told CNBC's "Closing Bell.

He added, the company is making a lot of the right steps but it is going to take time.

"The consumer is still going to perceive them as a higher priced location to shop," Angese said.

The company opened a second 365 store two weeks ago.

"Our 365 stores are firsts for us in so many ways, from a streamlined operating model, to centralized buying, to auto-replenishment of inventory," John Mackey, co-founder and co-chief executive officer, said. "We are already taking advantage of our many learnings to shape and evolve not just future 365 stores but Whole Foods Market stores as well."

Average weekly sales and gross margin are lowest in the fourth fiscal quarter due to seasonally slower sales during the summer months, the company said.

Goldman Sachs downgraded the stock Tuesday to "sell" from "neutral," citing competition from all parts of the grocery industry and online.

Challengers include Trader Joe's and The Fresh Market. But some of the biggest threats could be Costco and Kroger because of their focus on price and quality, Goldman said.

— CNBC's Ivan Levingston contributed to this report.