Whole Foods vs. FTC, Day Two: Role of Traditional Grocers at the Crux of Battle

AUSTIN, Texas - Natural and organic foods retailer Whole Foods Market Inc. yesterday defended its proposed acquisition of Wild Oats Markets Inc before a federal judge, maintaining the position that the world it competes in also includes traditional supermarkets.

The U.S. Federal Trade Commission is seeking to persuade U.S. District Judge Paul Friedman to block Whole Foods' $565 million purchase of Wild Oats, on the grounds that it would curb competition and raise retail prices.

In closing arguments, Whole Foods' lawyer Paul Denis told Friedman the FTC is ignoring the facts in deciding that natural and organic grocers compete in a separate market, according to press reports.

FTC lawyer Michael Bloom countered, claiming the merger would hinder competition in 25 markets around the country.

As expected, to support its argument, FTC tried to use Whole Foods c.e.o. John Mackey's own words against him, citing comments he made in an email to the retailer's board that the deal would prevent squelch price wars and head off future competition with conventional supermarket chains.

Judge Friedman is expected to rule on the FTC's request by mid-August.

Shares of Whole Foods jumped $2.48, or 6.7 percent, to $39.52 yesterday, while Wild Oats's shares fell 42 cents, or 2.6 percent, to $15.68.

Whole Foods operates more than 190 stores in the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom.
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