Kroger has told the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) it has met all the antitrust law requirements for its $24.6 billion merger with Albertsons, and the agency is now next to act, reports the Cincinnati Business Courier.
The FTC now has until Dec. 15 to make a decision on the deal and can do one of the following: close its investigation and let the deal proceed; ask for certain requirements before the merger is approved; or take legal action in the federal district court and block the deal.
Meanwhile, Kroger and Albertsons continue to act like the merger will be approved by the end of the first quarter in 2024. During Kroger’s third quarter earnings call on Thursday, CEO Roger McMullen said integration planning with Albertsons is going well and the two grocers continue to make progress towards the first goal which is to assure continuity with workers and shoppers at closing.
Kroger has made financial moves which show the Cincinnati-based retailer is confident the merger will be approved soon. Share buybacks have been put on pause in an effort to reserve enough capital for the action, and Kroger is also saving to pay down debt associated with the merger.
“We continue to work cooperatively with the FTC in its review of the transaction,” McMullen said during the call. “We are confident that we have fulfilled all the commitments we set out in the original merger agreement, including the comprehensive divestiture plan announced with C&S Wholesale Grocers.”
That deal involves the selling of 413 Kroger and Albertsons stores to C&S, which could buy as many as 650 locations. If more must be divested Kroger and Albertsons could back out of the deal without penalty.
Opposition of the merger has been ongoing with states holding several town hall meetings over the last several months. Many of the gatherings have been attended by FTC Chair Lina Khan, including the latest one in Colorado where several store workers and community members spoke out against the merger.
The tone was so negative Albertsons and Kroger provided statements to Supermarket News defending the deal.
“It was unfortunate that yet another listening session gave such a prominent platform to blatant mistruths about the merger,” a spokesperson for Albertsons told Supermarket News. “Albertsons Cos. merging with Kroger will expand competition, lower prices, protect union jobs, and enhance customers’ shopping experience in Denver and across the country.
“This merger would also ensure that our neighborhood supermarkets, some of which have been serving communities for over 100 years, can better compete with larger non-union retailing giants such as Walmart and Amazon.”
Kroger offered a similar assessment.
“Only non-unionized retailers, like Walmart and Amazon, will benefit if this merger is blocked,” they said. “In fact, Kroger joining with Albertsons will mean lower prices for customers, secure union jobs, and more food directed to hungry families, with 10 billion meals committed to people in need across America by 2030.”