Nearly everyone knows that if Congress can’t reach a consensus by the end of the month, the average American could very well see a four-figure increase in his/her 2013 taxes. But fewer realize that 2013 will bring another reason to tighten our belts: next year, food prices are expected to rise as much as 5% across the board. This amounts to an extra $500 in annual grocery bills for the typical American family of four.
The reason that we’ll see higher food prices is because last summer the Midwest was slammed by the worst drought in a half century. The drought, which affected 80% of farmland, drastically reduced corn and soybean crop yields. In turn, corn is directly or indirectly responsible for 75% of all supermarket food, including:
- Dairy products, which will increase 3.5% to 4.5%.
- Eggs, which will jump 3% to 4%.
- Beef, which will rise 4% to 5%.
- And a wide variety of packaged and processed foods.
So this year we’ll undoubtedly see more shoppers go longer between grocery runs and employ tactics to stretch their dollars the furthest. But what does this mean for the supermarkets themselves? Well, from where I’m standing, things aren’t looking good for the Grocery Stores industry as a whole. In 2013, analysts expect the average supermarket to decelerate to 15.6% earnings growth—half of this year’s forecast.
Already, we see that several of the nation’s biggest players — Kroger (NYSE:KR), SUPERVALU (NYSE:SVU), Safeway (NYSE:SWY) and Weis Markets (NYSE:WMK) — are floundering in terms of buying pressure and fundamental strength.
Of course, there are exceptions to every rule. The company that should continue to outperform the competition is Whole Foods Market (NYSE:WFM). What sets Whole Foods apart that it benefits from a loyal customer base that values quality over price. This store stocks a lot of products you can’t find elsewhere and it also has an unparalleled selection of healthy foods. So while other supermarkets are struggling with higher food costs, Whole Foods can get away with passing along higher food costs to its customers.
If you look ahead to next year’s projected sales and earnings, Whole Foods is expected to accelerate sales by 14.5% and earnings by 18.7%—above the industry average. And while the company’s $2 special dividend has come and gone, WFM shareholders still have a chance to get in the next quarterly dividend payment. Shareholders of record on January 18 will receive $0.20 per share on January 29.
It just comes to show that even in the face of startling economic trends, a little bit of digging can uncover profit opportunity.