• The Fresh Market ups FY EPS forecast
  • Expects comp sales to be higher
  • Analyst calls Q1 "exceptional"

US retailer The Fresh Market has lifted its target for annual earnings after its profits jumped in the first quarter of its financial year.

The company said yesterday (30 May) it expects diluted earnings per share to reach $1.28-1.34 for its full fiscal year. The retailer had seen diluted EPS hitting $1.26-1.31.

The Fresh Market, which runs 116 stores in 21 US states, also raised its forecast for comparable-store sales, which it now sees increasing by 4.5-6.5%. Its previous target, announced in March, was for comparable-store sales to rise 4-6%.

The new forecasts came as The Fresh Market reported higher earnings and sales for the first quarter of its fiscal year, which covered the 13 weeks to 29 April.

Net income jumped almost 43% to $19.3m. Operating income was up 40.5% at $31.1m. Net sales increased 22.8% to $324.8m as comparable-store sales rose 8.2%.

President and CEO Craig Carlock said The Fresh Market was "proud and excited" of "another strong quarter of both sales and earnings growth".

Mark Miller, an analyst at William Blair & Co., said The Fresh Market's had posted an "exceptional" first quarter.

"Today's release was, by far, the company's strongest result among the six quarters reported as a public company, in our view. In addition to better performance on all key measures (sales, margins, and EPS), the company now anticipates more new store openings in the first half of 2012 versus a back-end-weighted 2011, which adds to confidence in the company's ability to sustain a 15% annual unit expansion rate," Miller wrote in a note to investors.

"One occasional pushback that we hear from investors is a concern that comp-store sales lag those of Whole Foods Market. That is still the case (as the maturation of new stores is a smaller comp benefit to The Fresh Market), but the comp sales gap has narrowed over the past two quarters, as we perceive that The Fresh Market is enjoying a lift with increased sales penetration of prepared foods."

Click here to view the full statement from The Fresh Market.