Federal Trade Commission Sues to Block Kroger-Albertsons Deal

Posted on

File:The New York Times logo.png - Wikipedia

By Julie Creswell, Feb. 26, 2024, 12:00 p.m. ET

A parking lot in front of the entrance to a Kroger grocery store.

The regulator is trying to stop the largest supermarket merger in history, arguing that the deal would eliminate competition and raise prices for consumers.


The Federal Trade Commission on Monday sued to block Kroger, the supermarket giant, from completing its $24.6 billion acquisition of the grocery chain Albertsons, saying the deal would hurt competition in the industry.

The agency said the deal, which would be the largest supermarket merger in U.S. history, would also likely result in higher prices for groceries for consumers and, with fewer supermarkets, reduce the ability for grocery-store employees to negotiate higher wages and better working conditions.

“This supermarket mega merger comes as American consumers have seen the cost of groceries rise steadily over the past few years,” Henry Liu, director of the F.T.C.’s Bureau of Competition, said in a news release. “Kroger’s acquisition of Albertsons would lead to additional grocery price hikes for everyday goods, further exacerbating the financial strain consumers across the country face today.”

The agency’s lawsuit is latest move by the Biden administration to take a tougher stance on mergers. In recent years it has challenged several big deals, including the drug maker Amgen’s $27.8 billion acquisition of the pharmaceutical company Horizon Therapeutics; JetBlue’s proposed $3.8 billion purchase of Spirit Airlines; and Microsoft’s $70 billion acquisition of the video game maker Activision Blizzard.

But in many cases the F.T.C. has lost in court, including in its attempt to block the Microsoft merger.

In the 16 months since Kroger announced plans to acquire Albertsons, the proposed merger has faced opposition. Executives for the supermarket behemoths — two of the biggest grocery store chains in the United States — argued that the merger was necessary for them to compete against big-box retailers like Walmart, Costco and Amazon. Those retailers, the executives said, use their size to negotiate better prices with manufacturers and suppliers, which allows them to sell cereals, yogurts, pastas and other staples to consumers at lower prices.

“Our merger with Albertsons provides meaningful, measurable benefits to America’s consumers, associates of both companies and the communities we serve,” Kroger said in a statement last year.

But a chorus of critics, including consumer advocates, politicians, unions and independent grocery store chains, said combining Kroger and Albertsons would create a powerful giant with revenue of more than $200 billion and about 5,000 stores, including recognized chains like Ralphs, Safeway and Vons.

As inflation continues to drive food prices higher, critics said, the proposed merger would give shoppers in some regions little or no choice about where to buy household staples. Others warned that with less competition, the merger would result in higher grocery prices and potential layoffs.

In an effort to diminish some of those concerns, Kroger and Albertsons announced plans last September to sell 413 stores across the country to C&S Wholesale Grocers for $1.9 billion. The sale is contingent upon the approval of the Kroger-Albertsons merger.

Critics also painted the proposed merger as a big payday for Albertsons’ private equity owners. Early last year, after surviving a legal challenge brought by the state attorney general in Washington, Albertsons made a special dividend payment of $4 billion to its shareholders. The biggest recipients of that dividend, which was funded through a combination of cash and debt that was added to Albertsons’ balance sheet, were Albertsons’ private equity owners, including Cerberus, which, at the time, held 73 percent of the company.

File:The New York Times logo.png - Wikipedia

By Julie Creswell, link to story: https://www.nytimes.com/2024/02/26/business/ftc-kroger-albertsons-merger.html