Taking on the FTC in a Corporate Blog

John Mackey, the CEO of Whole Foods, has an excellent blog post up on the Whole Foods web site titled Whole Foods Market, Wild Oats, and The Federal Trade Commission

Whole Foods is trying to acquire Wild Oats and the FTC is challenging the merger.  As I scanned through my online newspapers this morning as part of my morning routine, I saw articles in each of them (Boulder Camera, Denver Post, Rocky Mountain News, NY Times, and WSJ) about this.  The deal is getting a lot of airplay locally since Wild Oats is a Boulder-based company and Whole Foods has significant presence here.

Most of the articles positioned the story using a few quotes from an email from Mackey.  My first reaction was “eh – that sounds pretty normal from a CEO of the market leader – what’s the big deal?”  One of the articles pointed to the blog that Mackey wrote.  It’s brilliant – one of the best examples I’ve seen of a CEO using a corporate blog to get his point of view clearly out in the open.  The executive summary follows:

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) recently filed a complaint challenging the merger of Whole Foods Market and Wild Oats. Whole Foods Market intends to fight this complaint in court. My blog posting provides a detailed look into Whole Foods Market’s decision-making process regarding the merger, as well as our company’s experience interacting with the FTC staff assigned to this merger. I provide explanations of how I think the FTC, to date, has neglected to do its homework appropriately, especially given the statements made regarding prices, quality, and service levels in its complaint. I also provide a glimpse into the bullying tactics used against Whole Foods Market by this taxpayer-funded agency. Finally, I provide answers in my FAQ section to many of the questions that various Team Members have fielded from both the media and company stakeholders.

As stated in our initial press release about Whole Foods Market’s challenge to the FTC’s complaint, we set an intention as a company to be as transparent as possible throughout this process. This is my first detailed effort at transparency. We will provide additional information as we field new questions and receive updates on the proceedings from the FTC and the courts.

The goal of transparency is presumably one that the FTC – if they approach this from an enlightened point of view – can respect.  Many corporate blogs are just regurgitated PR – the authenticity of this one from Mackey is really impressive. Who knows how this really plays out – it’ll be instructive to watch.

  • bill

    From yesterday’s WSJ, Page A16, the article “Granola and Antitrust”,

    “Maybe the FTC is responding to heat from Capitol Hill to show it’s on the job, but pandering to Congress has never made for good antitrust policy. Whole Foods says it will battle the FTC in court, and the case will make for some entertaining jujitsu as Mr. Mackey argues that his stores aren’t as unique as his marketing materials suggest, while the FTC pleads that the merger will make Whole Foods less unique and more expensive at the same time. Such are the absurdities of modern antitrust policy.”

    Mackey is a great PR guy – public idealist and private libertarian, and got caught up trying to be all things to all people, but the bottom line is this is yet another absurd antitrust investigation. It would be a shame to see some local stores close here in Boulder (Boulder has I think 4 Wild Oats derived-stores serving local neighborhoods), but the market is moving fast enough to continue competition amongst the remining retailers.

  • I find it ludicrous that the FTC is trying to block this deal. I liked the idea of Wild Oats finally getting to have a brand-new store right across the street from Whole Foods in Boulder.

    That said, both those chains face a bigger threat from conventional grocers than from each other, as Mackey argues. If I want to buy a half-gallon of Silk, it’s right there at my neighborhood Safeway.

    It’s good to see a CEO taking “transparency” to such a public level. The founder of our company, Pat Weisner, recently blogged about transparency as a management issue:

  • Mackey, while he doesn’t post very often, does do a lot of good stuff with his blog. More CEO’s should probably not only read his stuff, but even learn something from it!

  • kip

    This is so lame. The FTC is going after these guys, why? They are grocey stores. Good luck on the monopoly charge when I cna go to (instert major box retailer here) and buy a myriad of comp products. Stupid. Such a political move by the politcially swayed FTC.

    The real story should be some where else, not this.

  • Very nice to see a CEO talking so openly and clearly on a corporate blog. Thanks for the story, Brad!