Whole Foods selling Wild Oats stores, leases, assets

AUSTIN, Texas — Whole Foods Market Inc. will sell 13 stores to resolve the Federal Trade Commission’s challenge of its $565 million purchase of Wild Oats Markets, the company said Friday.

Whole Foods is putting 12 Wild Oats stores and one Whole Foods store up for sale in Arizona, Colorado, Connecticut, Missouri, New Mexico, Nevada, Oregon and Utah.

The Austin-based company will also sell leases and assets of 19 Wild Oats stores that have closed, including the store at 6424 Naples Blvd., North Naples.

In a statement, Whole Foods Chief Executive John Mackey said the 13 operating stores will do “business as usual.”

Federal regulators had challenged Whole Foods’ 2007 acquisition of Boulder, Colo.-based Wild Oats, worrying the deal would create a natural-food monopoly.

Whole Foods opened at The Mercato off U.S. 41 North, just north of Vanderbilt Beach Road in September. The Naples Wild Oats location closed instead of converting to Whole Foods.

The FTC’s leader said in a statement that selling the stores will “substantially” restore competition that the purchase eliminated.

“As a result of this settlement, American consumers will see more choices and lower prices for organic foods,” FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz said in the statement.

If any of the stores are not sold within six months, they will remain under Whole Foods’ operation, said Libba Letton, Whole Foods spokeswoman.

She welcomed the competition should a buyer choose to reopen closed Wild Oats stores in markets where Whole Foods is operating, such as Naples.

“Our philosophy has always been the more competition the better,” she said.

Whole Foods and Wild Oats were one another’s closest competitors in markets where they overlapped, the FTC said.

Whole Foods sued the FTC in December, claiming the regulator violated its due process rights in the dispute. Whole Foods then refiled the case in January in the U.S. District Court of Appeals in Washington to get an expedited decision. The court later denied that motion.

Once the FTC approves the settlement, which it is expected to do before April 30, Whole Foods plans to take a noncash charge of no more than $19 million for the sale of the stores, which recorded sales of $31 million in the fiscal first quarter of 2009.

Shares of Whole Foods gained 27 cents to $12.05 in morning trading.

Staff writer Tara McLaughlin contributed to this report.

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