Whole Foods Market plans to step up its store opening programme on the back of growing demand, which has propelled its profit growth in the first nine months of its financial year.

The US natural and organic retailer revealed net profit in the year to 7 July rose 21.8% to US$430m. Operating profit increased to $691m, up from $568m in the comparable period of last year. The company attributed margin improvements to lower store leasing costs.

Sales were up 13%, rising to $9.94bn. The company said it is gaining market share and indicated it expects to benefit from continued demand growth.

The supermarket group operates 355 stores and, in the year-to-date, has opened 24 new outlets. The group has also signed 50 new leases in the last 12 months, bringing its development pipeline to 94 stores.

“We continue to gain market share and see demand for 1,000 Whole Foods Market stores in the US alone,” co-CEO Walter Robb said. “Our outstanding operational performance is funding our growth, and our new stores are creating a cycle of innovation across the company.”

Click here for coverage of Whole Foods’ conference call on its results.

Click here for the full financial update.