Deja Vu at Whole Foods

The Federal Trade Commission's got a mind to block Whole Foods Market's (Nasdaq: WFMI  ) acquisition of Wild Oats. ... Hey, wait a minute!

That's right, we're back to this again. Even though the FTC lost its bid to block Whole Foods' acquisition this past summer, and the deal is already completed, the agency is staging a renewed effort. Last summer, I contemplated (tongue firmly in cheek) the "evil empire" that Whole Foods might be building. And given the FTC's seemingly major disconnect from the competitive climate for grocers, I extended the science-fiction metaphor to suggest that the commission must be from another planet.

Well, speaking of science fiction, the FTC's second attack seems like some endless loop of space and time, where past events keep repeating themselves. I mean, there's a whole spectrum of competitive influences that Whole Foods faces for organic goods. Trader Joe's, Safeway (NYSE: SWY  ) , Kroger (NYSE: KR  ) , and even Wal-Mart (NYSE: WMT  ) are all hungry for a piece of the organic action and truly appear to be competing quite competently.  

I feel a little bit weird, like I'm on an episode of Lost or something. I feel a little bit weird, like I'm on an episode of Lost or something.  

Anyway, this past summer, I got loads of emails from Foolish readers on this topic. A few thought that Whole Foods' move was anticompetitive, and some others simply appreciated the FTC's action because it has let so many other deals that seemed more clearly anticompetitive go through, but the lion's share of the responses I got were appalled by the lack of common-sense logic in the FTC's stance. When most consumers don't seem to feel particularly threatened by a takeover, you've got to wonder what the deal's critics are up to.

A federal judge shot the FTC down in pretty strong terms and refused its later effort to block the deal pending an appeal, and now Whole Foods has already moved on with its plans. Could it be that the FTC is going to suffer its own case of deja vu?


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