FTC to Block Whole Foods-Wild Oats Deal

Wild Oats yesterday said it had been informed that the Federal Trade Commission would file a lawsuit in Federal District Court to block the proposed acquisition of the chain by Whole Foods Market, its Austin, Texas-based rival.

BOULDER, Colo. — Wild Oats here yesterday said it had been informed that the Federal Trade Commission would file a lawsuit in Federal District Court to block the proposed acquisition of the chain by Whole Foods Market, its Austin, Texas-based rival. “We disagree with the FTC’s position and believe it is without factual merit,” said Greg Mays, chairman and chief executive officer, Wild Oats, in a prepared statement. “We intend to cooperate with Whole Foods and to vigorously challenge the FTC in court.” In a prepared statement, the FTC said it had determined that natural-organic stores like Whole Foods and Wild Oats are a different type of retailer from traditional supermarkets and attract a different customer, and therefore their merger would create the possibility of reduced competition. "Whole Foods and Wild Oats are each other's closest competitors in premium natural and organic supermarkets, and are engaged in intense head-to-head competition in markets across the country," said Jeffrey Schmidt, director of the FTC's Bureau of Competition. "If Whole Foods is allowed to devour Wild Oats, it will mean higher prices, reduced quality and fewer choices for consumers." Whole Foods in February said it had agreed to acquire Wild Oats in a deal worth close to $700 million, including assumed debt. The $18.50-per-share tender offer has since been extended twice because of the FTC’s investigation.

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