Investment analysts are almost uniformly negative on the company, worried that competition from mainstream retailers, which are increasing the amount of organic and natural items in their mix, will impede the growth of Whole Foods.

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Sales of organic and natural products are soaring — but you would never know it from the share price of Whole Foods Market, the premier purveyor of such merchandise.

Shares are almost 50 percent lower than they were in February, the high point of the year.

Investment analysts are almost uniformly negative on the company, worried that competition from mainstream retailers, which are increasing the amount of organic and natural items in their mix, will impede the growth of Whole Foods.

Issaquah-based Costco Wholesale, for instance, claims to be the biggest seller of organic foods, and Wal-Mart now sells Wild Oats, a brand of organic products, at the same price as similar conventional brands.

“Conventional retailers can get it into their stores more cheaply, and they can be more predatory on pricing,” said Mark Retzloff, a pioneer of the natural- and organic-foods retail business. “If one of those stores is just down the street from a Whole Foods, there’s a big segment of their customer base that isn’t going to shop at Whole Foods anymore.”

The encroachment of traditional retailers onto turf historically dominated by Whole Foods has reminded consumers of the old nickname for the chain, Whole Paycheck.

“Their single biggest problem is their price image,” said Meredith Adler, who follows the company for Barclays Capital. “Sure, Whole Foods is working to lower prices in produce — but if it’s also selling fish that’s $45 a pound, it will be hard to convince people that prices are good.”

John Mackey, co-founder and co-chief executive of Whole Foods, objects to the idea that the cure is to lower prices. “The Whole Foods Market brand may never shake that label,” Mackey said in an interview on a recent New York trip.

Walter Robb, the other co-chief executive, argues that Wall Street’s pressure on the chain to reduce prices is “a race to the bottom.” He said Whole Foods has worked hard to address price when it feels it can, and the effort upset Wall Street because it put a slight dent last quarter in the dollar value of the average basket at checkout.

The company’s financial performance is one of the envies of the grocery industry. Its sales per square foot in the last quarter were $990, which is thought to be among the highest in the industry. It is expected to report quarterly earnings Wednesday after the market closes.

Whole Foods also has strong enough cash flow to finance new-store development without resorting to borrowing, and almost no debt. That, combined with its low stock price, has made it a target of takeover rumors.

“Wall Street tends to understand the transactional much better than deep customer relationships,” said Paddy Spence, a veteran of the natural-foods business who is chief executive of soft-drink company Zevia. “Natural grocers, like high-end retailers, have a relationship with their customers that goes way beyond the transactional and is very hard to put a value on.”

There can be drawbacks to those close customer relationships as well. An example is the damage done to sales after the New York City Department of Consumer Affairs called out Whole Foods for mispricing some merchandise based on weight. The department found an average discrepancy of $2.75 between prices Whole Foods was charging for things like fruit plates and packaged chicken and the prices it should have been charging based on weight.

After those findings went viral, sales at Whole Foods plummeted. In the two weeks after the announcement, comparable-store sales growth fell to just 0.4 percent, after running on average at 2.5 percent in the weeks before the findings were released.

“It actually hurt us worse outside New York City,” Mackey said.

The company, which apologized for the problem while emphasizing it is a common one in the grocery business, has hired a third-party auditor to monitor weights and measures in its stores and strengthened its training programs for new employees. Still, the issue continued to hurt sales in the following quarter, Robb told analysts.

Since then, Whole Foods has made changes aimed at appeasing Wall Street, including trimming payrolls by 1,500 employees.

What everyone is waiting for is the first of its new stores, called 365, which will be smaller and sell a more limited mix of cheaper goods.

“It’s not a revolutionary idea,” Mackey said, noting that he expects the 365 concept to be to Whole Foods what Nordstrom Rack is to Nordstrom.

“In Whole Foods, you can find a wedge of Brie for $2.99, and you can find a wedge of triple crème Brie from France that’s made with milk from grass-fed cows that sells for $40,” Mackey said. “You won’t find any $40 Brie at 365.”

The new stores will be less expensive to build, deploy more technology and be more self-service than Whole Foods stores.

The first stores will open next year in Los Angeles. A store in Bellevue Square is expected to open in the second half of 2016.Mackey and Robb believe 365 will help Whole Foods introduce its philosophy to neighborhoods that cannot sustain stores’ selling $40 blocks of cheese.

“365 can go places Whole Foods can’t,” Mackey said.