Whole Foods Reaches Out to Competitors, Slams FTC

Whole Foods officials on Tuesday said the Federal Trade Commission’s request to decouple the Wild Oats stores it acquired in 2007 while legal battles over the merger continue as an “extreme and premature” measure it would vigorously fight.

WASHINGTON — Whole Foods officials on Tuesday said the Federal Trade Commission’s request to decouple the Wild Oats stores it acquired in 2007 while legal battles over the merger continue as an “extreme and premature” measure it would vigorously fight.

The retailer in the meantime confirmed that it had subpoenaed 93 food retailers in 29 markets across the country to provide documents that would defend the merger by proving that Whole Foods competes with them for customers.

John Mackey, chairman and chief executive officer of Whole Foods, sent a letter to each of his counterparts at the subpoenaed retailers assuring them their information would be seen only by Whole Foods’ outside counsel. Officials noted Tuesday that not all of the retailers Whole Foods has written seeking information had complied with the request.

“We wish we didn’t have to ask for these documents. But we have no choice if we are to defend ourselves,” Mackey wrote. “I must say that if the FTC can act this way regarding [Whole Foods], it is possible that some day in the future your company similarly may be victimized.

“In this respect, all of us in today’s economic environment share a common interest in challenging regulatory behavior that ignores the realities and challenges of the marketplace.”

The FTC and Whole Foods are scheduled for an administrative case on the legality of the merger on April 6.

This week, in response to a request by U.S. District Court Judge Paul Friedman, the FTC detailed remedies it would seek to ensure that any relief it would receive would be effective. These include a request to rebrand all of the Wild Oats stores back to the name when they were acquired and to turn over the chain to a trustee and new management team at least through the duration of the trial.

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