Whole Foods/Wild Oats Merger: Deal or No Deal?

Whole Foods

Photo credit: Mark Pritchard

Another day, another setback for Wacky Mackey's organically grown empire.

On Thursday, Judge Paul L. Friedman of the Federal District Court in Washington, D.C. gave Whole Foods the go-ahead to snap up Wild Oats Markets, its next-biggest competitor in the natural-foods biz, for a cool $565 million.

Not so fast, said the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), which then filed a motion to stall the deal pending the outcome of its appeal of Judge Friedman's ruling.

But the FTC made an oopsie of its own, even as it tries to squash the merger on the grounds that it would "create a monopoly in the operation of premium natural and organic supermarkets." Federal regulators inadvertently let fly dozens of trade secrets in public court documents, including Whole Foods' plans to close 30 or more Wild Oats stores to double its own revenue.Also not meant for public eyes was the company's strategy of negotiating with vendors to drive up costs for Wal-Mart stores.

Filed electronically by FTC lawyers, the documents were not meant to be released publicly, but words intended to be blocked out were actually just electronically shaded black, meaning that they could be searched, copied, pasted, and read in versions downloaded from court computer servers.

When court officials caught on to the mistake, they replaced the filling with a version using scanned pages of the edited documents, but by then the Associated Press had already downloaded the original, unedited version from the public server.

Let's not forget CEO John's Mackey's own online sock-puppet identity, which he used on Yahoo Finance's bulletin boards to champion his own company, while blasting Wild Oats.

Someone hand us a Dramamine because we have a feeling this surreal ride is FAR from over. ::The New York Times and ::AP

See also: ::John Mackey's Online Double Life and ::The People vs. Whole Foods

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