Friday, March 06, 2009

Whole Foods - A Rare Post-Closing Consent Decree

I've dealt with divestiture trusts on several occasions, both as a buyer and as a seller of assets that federal regulators required to be sold under consent decrees authorizing mergers. While these sales are concluded after the larger deal has closed, the agreement and trust has always been established prior to closing.

So this is a first - Whole Foods, which bought the Wild Oats chain in 2007, has, over 18 months after closing the deal, entered into a consent decree with the FTC to sell the "Wild Oats" name and 32 locations. As I wrote at the time, I thought both the merger AND the FTC's objections to it were out to lunch. When the FTC lost a court battle to obtain a preliminary injunction blocking the merger, Whole Foods quickly closed the deal, despite the fact that the FTC appealed the PI denial. The FTC ended up winning that appeal, and now we have this settlement.

From the perspective of Whole Foods, this settlement is no big deal. There's little chance they ever planned to use the "Wild Oats" name, and the divestitures represent little more than 25% of the total locations acquired. On the other hand, this smells strongly of face-saving by the FTC. The "Wild Oats" name has little value, and of the 32 locations in the divestiture, over half (19) have already been shuttered by Whole Foods.

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