Natural and organic foods firm Whole Foods Market said that sales increased 16% to $1.3bn for fourth quarter of 2006.

Comparable store sales increased 8.6% on top of a 13.4% increase reported for the previous year for the quarter. Adjusted net income increased to $42.2m, and adjusted diluted earnings per share increased to $0.29.

For the full year 2006, sales increased 19% to $5.6bn and comparable store sales grew 11.0% on top of a 12.8% increase in the prior year. 

Year on year, the company reported a 10% increase in ending square footage and a 14% increase in weighted average square footage, reflecting its front-end loaded new store openings. Adjusted net income increased to $201.8m, and adjusted diluted earnings per share rose to $1.39.

"In fiscal 2006, we produced strong operating results, reporting our third consecutive year of double-digit comparable store sales growth, an increase in adjusted diluted earnings per share to $1.39, and a $39m improvement in EVA," said John Mackey, chairman, chief executive officer, and co-founder of Whole Foods Market. "We returned $358m in cash dividends to our shareholders and are pleased to announce today a 20% increase in our quarterly dividend to $0.18 per share."

For the fiscal year, the company produced $453m in cash flow from operations and received $222m in proceeds from the exercise of stock options. Capital expenditures for the fiscal year totalled $340m of which $209m was for new stores. The company paid approximately $358m to shareholders in cash dividends and repurchased approximately 2m shares, or $100m of common stock on the open market.

Whole Foods finished the year with total cash and investments of approximately $256m and total long-term debt of approximately $9m.

The company declared a dividend of $0.18 per share payable on 22 January 2007 to shareholders of record as of 12 January 2007, an increase of 20% from the company's previous $0.15 quarterly dividend.

In the fourth quarter, Whole Foods opened three new stores in Los Altos, CA, Redmond, WA, and Milwaukee, WI and relocated one store in Atlanta, GA.

The company noted in a statement that its fiscal year 2007 will be a 53-week year, with the extra week falling in the fourth quarter making it a thirteen-week quarter. It expects total sales growth of 13% to 17% for the period.

"After producing such strong growth over the last three years, we believe fiscal 2007 will be a transition year for us. As we revert back to our historical comparable store sales growth range, without yet producing a fully offsetting increase in sales from new stores, we believe our total sales growth will be impacted," added Mackey. "However, having opened six new stores over the last two months, we believe we are just beginning to execute on delivering an acceleration in store openings that will be a driver of strong sales and comps in the not-so-distant future. We remain confident in our ability to achieve our goal of reaching $12bn in sales in fiscal 2010."