FTC Moves to Halt Whole Foods Deal with Wild Oats

The Federal Trade Commission says it will file a lawsuit to block the proposed merger of Whole Foods and Wild Oats markets. The two organic food chains say the federal regulator informed them that it views their proposed combination as anti-competitive.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

The federal government is concerned about what you might call an organic merger. The Federal Trade Commission says it plans to file a lawsuit as soon as today to block Whole Foods from purchasing the rival food store Wild Oats.

NPR's Jack Speer reports.

JACK SPEER: Whole Foods announced its plan to acquire Wild Oats back in February. The deal values Wild Oats at $670 million, but the companies now faced a major roadblock.

Ms. KATE LOWERY (Spokesperson, Whole Foods): We totally disagree with the FTC's position on this, and we intend to challenge it in court.

SPEER: Kate Lowery is a spokesperson for Whole Foods Market. Her company issued a statement yesterday that says the FTC is choosing to view the organic food market as separate from the overall grocery business - a view she says ignores the competitive realities of the marketplace.

Ms. LOWERY: We feel that their position failed to recognize that there's competition in our industry. And so much so, it's even prompted more and more competitors to up their organic and natural offerings and to even renovate their stores to look very much like Whole Foods Markets.

SPEER: Whole Foods CEO John Mackey said the company intends to vigorously challenge the FTC in court. Whole Foods will apparently be free to continue its expansion plans outside the U.S., however. Today, the company plans to open a new store on Kensington High Street in London, its first market outside North America.

Jack Speer, NPR News, Washington.

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