Whole Foods Market saw third-quarter profits dip on the back of costs linked to new store openings.

The US-based natural and organic retailer yesterday (31 July) posted a 5.5% fall in operating income to US$79.6m for the three months to 1 July. The dip in profits came despite a 13.2% leap in revenue to $1.5bn.

For the quarter, pre-opening and relocation costs were $15m, compared to $7.9m, in the third quarter last year.

"As expected, fiscal year 2007 has been an investment year as we have accelerated our new store openings while cycling over tough year-ago comparable store sales growth comparisons," said Whole Foods chairman and CEO John Mackey.

"We are very excited to see the acceleration in our new store openings materialize, as we expect these new stores to drive strong sales and comparable store sales growth in the not-so-distant future."

Lawyers for Whole Foods have spent the last two days in a US court in the latest stage of its legal battle to push through its proposed merger with rival retailer Wild Oats Markets.

The US Federal Trade Commission (FTC), which wants to block the US$565m merger in the belief the enlarged firm would erode competition in the natural and grocery sectors.