March 7, 2009

FTC intervenes after Whole Foods’ acquisition of Wild Oats, forces sale of 31 grocery stores across nation (including three in Boulder).

Via CNN: Under the pact, Whole Foods (WFMI), the largest U.S. organic grocer, will divest 19 former Wild Oats stores that were closed, 12 operating Wild Oats stores, one operating Whole Foods store, and Wild Oats’ trademarks and other intellectual property.

“It will be business as usual in the 13 operating stores to be marketed for sale,” Chairman John Mackey said in a statement. “We will be offering team members in stores that are sold the choice of either a guaranteed job offer in another store or an enhanced severance package.”

Terms of the deal can take effect pending a 30-day comment period ending April 6. The divestiture trustee will have six months to market the assets to be divested.

Whole Foods shares, which rose more than 2% to $12.03 after the announcement, have managed to buck the severe downtrend in the broader market so far this year with a 27% rally. Last month, the stock surged 37% after two analysts upgraded Whole Foods to a buy in the wake of its earnings report. The company, bogged down by the legal fees over the FTC challenge, had posted a drop in first-quarter profit that wasn’t as bad as Wall Street had expected.

Think the FTC is mean? Get this: Whole Foods has to sell the stores, doesn’t have a choice to whom they sell it, and doesn’t even have a say on the price they get. All this despite the fact that Whole Foods has substantial organic food sales competition (the FTC’s prime concern) from big mainstream groceries like King Soopers, Safeway, Wal-Mart…and smaller grocers like Trader Joe’s, Vitamin Cottage, farmers markets and co-ops.

Think the FTC is right to intervene? It’s a matter of fact that Whole Foods’ purchase of Wild Oats was intended to cut down competition in prices with Wild Oats, and that the merger sent many products lines to the sidelines (I know I can no longer buy some of my favorite products at my local Wild Oats-now-Whole Foods.

But enough about what I think. What do you think? The FTC’s action, after all, is meant to be in interest of protecting the consumer.

Read 2 Comments and Reply

Read 2 comments and reply

Top Contributors Latest

Elephant Journal  |  Contribution: 1,509,080