The U.S. Federal Trade Commission on Wednesday issued an order withdrawing the Whole Foods Market case from adjudication until Feb. 5 to consider reaching a consent agreement. If a settlement is reached, it will mean that the question of whether or not Whole Foods created a monopoly in 18 U.S. cities when it acquired Wild Oats Market will be settled without a trial or the necessity of tackling the sticky issue of how former Wild Oats stores that have already been re-branded as Whole Foods stores would be untangled.
The terms of the proposed settlement have not been made public, however in a prepared statement, Whole Foods Vice President Jim Sud said the company “welcomed the opportunity to hold constructive discussions directly with the Commissioners as well as the FTC’s attorneys.”
An April 6 administrative proceeding about the matter is on hold pending the outcome of consent agreement talks. If there is a settlement, according to Los Angeles-based antitrust lawyer Heather Cooper of Sheppard, Mullin, Richter & Hampton LLC, there would be “no full-blown trial and, typically no admission of a violation of law.”
“But there would be a statement of the conduct of Whole Foods and legal obligations on Whole Foods' part, for a defined period of time, to refrain from certain conduct or take affirmative steps both of which would be designed to alleviate competition concerns,” Cooper said.