January 14, 2009

FTC seeks to stall Whole Foods merger

Federal anti-trust regulators have asked a court to stall a merger between U.S. grocer Whole Foods and Wild Oats, which it purchased in 2007.

The anti-trust battle has gone both ways in court, with the retailer first winning a court battle that prevented the Federal Trade Commission from blocking the merger, The Miami Herald reported Wednesday.

The FTC then won an appeal. On Monday, regulators asked a court to direct Whole Foods to operate the chains separately until the decision is made in an administrative trial, scheduled for April.

Whole Foods, in turn, has asked 93 competitors in various markets for pricing information to back its claim that the merger hasn't thwarted competition.

Some competitors, such as Publix have said the information was proprietary and would only be given out if it was legally obligated to do so.

But, industry expert Burt Flickinger III, managing director of Strategic Resources Group, said the FTC is not making decisions based in the current retail reality.

``This should have been one of the easiest acquisitions to approve. It would help consumers. It would give Whole Foods more procurement power, which would translate into lower prices and greater savings for shoppers," he said.