Big Organic Fishes in a Small Natural Pond?

Michael Giberson

Or are Whole Foods and Wild Oats just two little fish in the big sea of the grocery business?

The WSJ’s The Numbers Guy contemplates the issues surrounding a survey of shoppers introduced into the current FTC case seeking to block the Whole Foods-Wild Oats merger. The FTC argues that the survey is flawed, and should not be relied upon as evidence. However, the FTC hasn’t produced its own survey, so one wonders on what grounds they are arguing that the Whole Foods-Wild Oats combination would be too big. (Together the chains would have about 300 stores in a country with a total of 85,000 grocery stores as of 2004).

I suspect that five years ago, 99.9% of the population in this country had not heard of Whole Foods and Wild Oats, even now I would bet the company names would get you a lot of blank stares, and yet the FTC believes the world would be a worse place without maintaining these small specialty chains as separate corporate entities.

The organic and natural foods business has been growing and changing like crazy for the last several years. Shouldn’t the FTC at least let the dust settle on the status quo before they go to court to try to defend it?