What is it with the Federal Trade Commission's fixation on the merger of Whole Foods and Wild Oats? Last week, for what seems to be the umpteenth time, the antitrust crusaders tried to kibosh the deal, which cleared the courts in August. I don't usually find myself defending corporate consolidation, but I have to wonder why the bureaucrats are singling out this relatively modest ($565 million) deal? Especially since expert observers say the agency doesn't have a hope in hell of turning back the clock.
You'll recall that these are the same folks who saw no problem whatsoever earlier this year when Smithfield Foods, the country's largest pork producer, gobbled up Premium Standard Farms, the number two producer to create a porcine colossus that processes a third of America's hogs That takeover was decried as anticompetitive by Republican politicians and left-wing NGOs alike.
And from a timing point of view, it's ironic that the FDA's last ditch-efforts to unravel the deal came just a few days after Scarborough Research unveiled a report (here's the .pdf) proving what everyone in the retail world has known for months: Wal-Mart, not Whole Foods and/or Wild Oats, is now the country's biggest seller of organic groceries. And I'm not sure Wal-Mart is in any position to cast the first stone on issues of corporate concentration.