Whole Foods settles antitrust suit; will sell Wild Oats label and 13 stores

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Whole Foods Market Reaches Settlement with FTC

by Holly Case, Natural Food Network

After more than 18 months of contention, the Whole Foods Market acquisition of Wild Oats has finally been settled in court. Challenged for violating anti-trust laws, Whole Foods settled with the Federal Trade Commission, and Wild Oats properties will have to be sold under the terms of the settlement. In total, 13 Wild Oats stores will be sold, as will the Wild Oats label.

"We have reached a mutually satisfactory agreement with the FTC," said John Mackey, chairman, CEO, and co-founder of Whole Foods. "We believe it was in the best interests of all our stakeholders to resolve this matter so we can dedicate our full attention to selling the highest-quality foods available in our inviting store environments. It will be business as usual in the 13 operating stores to be marketed for sale. We are committed to serving our shoppers by continuing to operate these stores in the manner our customers deserve and expect. We will be offering team members in stores that are sold the choice of either a guaranteed job offer in another store or an enhanced severance package."

In keeping with FTC protocol, the settlement agreement has been placed on public record for a 30-day comment period ending April 6, 2009, after which the FTC will issue a final ruling. Under the terms of the agreement, a third-party divestiture trustee has been appointed to sell the following:

Leases and related assets for 19 non-operating former Wild Oats stores, 10 of which were closed by Wild Oats prior to the merger and nine of which were closed by Whole Foods;

Leases and related fixed assets (excluding inventory) for 12 operating acquired Wild Oats stores and one operating Whole Foods store; and

Wild Oats trademarks and other intellectual property associated with the Wild Oats stores.

In Colorado seven stores are included in the settlement. Whole Foods will still keep some of the other stores it purchased from Wild Oats, which will enable the company to benefit from greater economies of scale. It is still unknown if other natural foods retailers will purchase the closing Wild Oats stores.

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