Whole Foods Closer to Acquiring Wild Oats
RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
Whole Foods just won a major victory in its drive to take over the rival organic food company Wild Oats.
NPR's Frank Langfitt reports.
FRANK LANGFITT: The Federal Trade Commission says combining the two specialty stores will just raise prices at a company some people already call whole pay check. And the government tried to make its case by using the company's own words against it. The commission cited a memo by Whole Foods CEO John Mackey saying the merger would help avoid, quote, "nasty price wars." This week, the government revealed documents showing Whole Foods' plans to close 30 or more Wild Oats stores.
But that wasn't enough. U.S. District Judge Paul Friedman refused to stop the $565-million merger. His reasoning remains a mystery for the moment. The opinion is sealed in D.C. federal court so the companies can black out trade secrets.
Of course winning anti-trust suits is tough. The government has to provide strong data showing that when the companies go head-to-head, prices fall. And Whole Foods had argued that competition in natural foods is only growing. It pointed to companies like Trader Joe's and Wegmans, as well as mainstream supermarkets like Kroger.
Yesterday, Mackey called the merger, quote, "a winning scenario for all stakeholders." But the trade commission insisted that consumers would lose. The ruling allows Whole Foods to continue with the merger, but the commission could appeal.
Frank Langfitt, NPR News, Washington.
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