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FTC Challenges Whole Foods/Wild Oats Merger Again

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This is just getting weird. The merger was so long ago. Is there really anything to halt in the merger at this point? The deal was originally announced almost two years ago--February 2007. The Federal Trade Commission first attempted to block it in June 2007. In August 2007, the FTC made the right ruling (in my opinion), saying that Whole Foods' competitors were other supermarkets, not just organic grocers. Then, a year later, in July 2008 word emerged that the merger was being challenged by a ruling from United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. And now it's back to the FTC.

The Federal Trade Commission on Monday asked a federal judge to halt the integration of Wild Oats and Whole Foods Market as part of an ongoing legal battle over the 2007 deal that combined the two natural grocery chains.

The FTC wants a U.S. District Court judge to force Whole Foods to stop any integration activities while one of multiple disputes over its acquisition of Wild Oats is handled in court.

If the judge finds the FTC has a strong enough case, the regulators say they could completely unwind the companies.

Federal regulators said in their filing that the request is "appropriate, and reasonable" to preserve the assets of Wild Oats until the conclusion of the hearings. The FTC said it would not comment further on pending litigation.

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Whole Foods officials called the FTC's request "absurd" and said the process of integrating Wild Oats is done.

"They want us to put the toothpaste back in the tube," said Lanny Davis, an attorney representing Whole Foods. "How can you halt something that is already done?"

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Elaine Misonzhnik

Senior associate editor Elaine Misonzhnik has been writing for National Real Estate Investor since June 2006 and has covered commercial real estate for more than 12 years. She first became...
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