[JURIST] Organic grocer Whole Foods Market [corporate website] agreed to a settlement [decision and order, PDF; FTC docket] with the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) [official website] on Friday over its 2007 merger with rival grocer Wild Oats Market [corporate website]. If approved by the FTC Commissioners, the settlement will require Whole Foods to divest itself of approximately 32 store locations, including 13 operating stores and 19 closed locations, as well as all Wild Oats intellectual property, including the Wild Oats brand name and trademarks. In return, the FTC will stop its legal attempts [JURIST news archive] to block the merger. In a press release [text], the Acting Director of the FTC's Bureau of Competition David Wales said:
Over the past two years we never wavered in our belief that Whole Foods acquisition of Wild Oats was anticompetitive, and we were prepared to demonstrate in court the actual, real-world consumer harm that resulted from the transaction[.] The consent order announced today is a major win for consumers and is the result of the superb work done by all the FTC staff.In January, a federal appeals court rejected a complaint [JURIST report] filed by Whole Foods seeking an injunction to bar the FTC from holding administrative proceedings [FTC administrative docket] concerning the Wild Oats merger. Whole Foods and the FTC have been engaged in ongoing litigation [FTC litigation docket] over the Whole Foods-Wild Oats merger since it occurred in 2007. In August 2007, the US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit refused to block the merger [JURIST report], despite an appeal by the FTC. The court reviewed the case in July 2008 and ordered the district court to reconsider [JURIST report] the potential impacts of the merger on the market. The district court has not yet ruled on the matter.