PROVIDENCE, R.I. — United Natural Foods Inc. saw its stock jump to a new 52-week high Friday after the wholesaler reported better than expected sales and earnings for the fourth quarter.

The company said fourth-quarter net income rose 27.6%, to $32.1 million, on a sales gain of 22.2%, to $1.64 billion, compared with year-ago results.

For the year, net income rose 18.1%, to $107.9 million, on a sales increase of 15.8%, to $6.06 billion. Both the fiscal year and fourth quarter contained one extra week.


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“Industry dynamics remain very favorable due to a growing number of consumers focusing on maintaining healthy lifestyles with an increased interest in natural and organic products and food safety,” said Steven Spinner, president and chief executive officer, UNFI, in a conference call with analysts. He projected that the wholesale market for natural and organic products would reach $100 billion by 2020, up from $55 billion today.

“Additionally, almost 80% of consumers are buying some organic products each year, and almost every single household in North America bought at least one natural and organic product last year, with over 72% of parents recognizing the USDA organic seal,” Spinner said. “These are extremely compelling numbers which point to long-term growth at UNFI.”

Mark Shamber, senior vice president and chief financial officer, said that the company’s growth accelerated during the first five weeks of the first quarter of fiscal 2014, “trending north of 14.5%.”

He said sales to supernaturals — large natural/organic chains — increased by 22.2% for the fourth quarter, and 13.4% adjusting for the extra week. Supermarket sales growth was 29.5% — or 21.1% adjusting for the extra week — and the independent channel grew at 15.8% in the fourth quarter, or 8% after adjusting for the extra week.

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