US natural and organic food retailer Wild Oats Markets has reported lower quarterly net income, despite higher sales due to the ongoing grocery strike in Southern California.

The company posted net income of US$829,000, or 3 cents per share, for the fourth quarter to 27 December, compared to net income of $2.6m, or 9 cents per share, in the year-ago period.

Wild Oats said net sales for the fourth quarter were $253.9m, a 14.5% increase from $221.8m in last year’s fourth quarter. Comparable store sales rose 9.9%. The company said the increase in sales in the fourth quarter can be partly attributed to the benefit of the Southern California grocery strike. Without the impact of the strike, estimated same-store sales in the fourth quarter rose 2.2%, Wild Oats said.

Wild Oats said supply chain issues were a primary contributor to the company’s decline in net income in the second half of 2003. Wild Oats is currently in the process of transitioning its primary distribution business to United Natural Foods.

“We are encouraged by our top-line performance in the quarter and with our ability to enter 2004 with strong sales across the country during our transition to a new primary distribution partner,” said Perry D. Odak, president and chief executive officer of Wild Oats. “We expect that once our supply chain and distribution centre transitions are complete, we will be able to better leverage our sales momentum into profitable growth throughout the coming year.”

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The company said it opened eight new stores in 2003, and plans to open 15 new stores in 2004.