FTC chair hears solely opposition to proposed Kroger-Albertsons merger throughout Denver cease

Close to the tip of an hourlong listening session Wednesday on the proposed merger of King Soopers’ father or mother Kroger Co. and Albertsons, Federal Commerce Fee Chair Lina Khan spoke.

“Is there anyone right here who helps the merger and needs to share any causes for it?” she requested. The viewers packed in a big room on the Mi Casa Useful resource Middle in Denver burst out laughing. 

No takers.

Two people sit on chairs in front of a room of people
Federal Commerce Fee Chair Lina Khan and Colorado Lawyer Normal Phil Weiser listened to grocery retailer staff and neighborhood members converse in opposition to the pending Kroger Co. merger with Albertsons. The hour-long listening tour was held at Mi Casa Useful resource Middle in Denver on Nov. 1, 2023. (Tamara Chuang, The Colorado Solar)

Khan joined Colorado Lawyer Normal Phil Weiser on his listening tour across the state to listen to from Coloradans concerning the proposed merger of the nation’s two largest grocery chains. Kroger operates about 150 grocery shops in Colorado, whereas Albertsons has 105 below the Albertsons and Safeway manufacturers. The viewers — largely union members who work at grocery shops and meals suppliers — overwhelmingly have been opposed. 

However Khan wasn’t there to cease the merger. She does, nonetheless, should make a giant determination that might influence which method this goes.

“For us on the FTC, we don’t get to only do a thumbs-up or thumbs-down on the merger,” Khan mentioned. “If we do, in truth, decide that this merger would violate the antitrust legal guidelines, we must file a grievance in federal court docket. It’s finally a choose who would determine whether or not our problem is profitable or not.”

Kroger and Albertsons in October 2022 introduced a $24.6 billion plan to merge. In an announcement on the time, the businesses referred to as themselves “complementary organizations” that when mixed, would attain 85 million households, make use of 710,000 staff and function 4,996 shops. A few of the shops are within the strategy of being bought off to a competitor to satisfy “requisite regulatory clearance,” in keeping with the businesses. In September, New Hampshire-based C&S Complete Grocers mentioned it might purchase 413 shops, together with 52 Albertsons in Colorado. 

Kroger officers didn’t reply to a request for remark Wednesday.

However the firm has been financially faltering, no less than within the thoughts of buyers. In its most up-to-date quarter, same-store gross sales progress of 1% was decrease than Wall Avenue analysts anticipated. The corporate misplaced cash, although that was blamed on a $1.4 billion cost associated to the nationwide opioid settlement, in keeping with The Wall Avenue Journal. Its grocery market share was additionally down about 1.4 proportion factors to 10.7% on June 30. 

On the occasion Wednesday, grocery staff talked about what mergers had meant to them of their previous. “They promised us we might hold our jobs. That we might have higher advantages, a pension for retirement,” mentioned Christine Martinez, who labored at a grocery retailer in California in 2014 when it was bought to a private-equity agency as a part of the Safeway-Albertsons merger. 

“Inside two weeks, we started to see the indicators of hassle forward. Gradual gross sales. Greater grocery costs, cheaper native opponents. And because of this, our work hours have been excessive and our tensions have been at an all-time excessive. This continued till two months later once I was informed our shops have been closing,” mentioned Martinez, who now works as a union organizer for the United Meals and Business Employees in California.

A room filled with people — many supporting unions
A crowd of largely union members attended a listening session to share their ideas with federal and state officers opposing the pending Kroger Co. merger with Albertsons. The hour-long listening tour was held at Mi Casa Useful resource Middle in Denver on Nov. 1, 2023. (Tamara Chuang, The Colorado Solar)

Labor unions introduced in grocery retailer staff from different states to talk due to the chance to get in entrance of an FTC chair, though a handful of locals additionally received their two minutes. Nancy Madrigal, who works on the JBS Meals meat packing plant in Greeley, mentioned she was involved not nearly how her private procuring choices could possibly be restricted however for the sake of her employer. The merger, she mentioned, “will even scale back the marketplace for the meat we produce in our plant and scale back the competitors.”

Grocery-chain mergers have lengthy been a part of U.S. historical past. In spite of everything, even Kroger’s personal “household of firms” contains regional chains added by mergers or acquisitions, together with Fred Meyer, Ralphs and King Soopers. 

The FTC has hardly ever interfered with grocery mergers as a result of firms have divested shops to satisfy regulatory necessities, in keeping with a brand new white paper from the Worldwide Middle for Regulation & Economics, a nonprofit and nonpartisan analysis middle. Just one has been challenged in court docket since 1988: the tie up Complete Meals and Wild Oats in 2007. 

“Over the past 35 years, the FTC has allowed each different grocery store merger and most retail-store transactions to proceed with divestitures,” in keeping with the paper. “The FTC’s historic method acknowledges the fact that aggressive issues relating to grocery store mergers will be readily and adequately remedied by divestitures in geographic markets of concern.”

Khan, although, assured the viewers that she was listening. “I do know that antitrust enforcers haven’t at all times gotten it proper. And a number of the tales you all share about previous experiences are a reminder of that.”

Weiser mentioned there was one thing about this proposed merger that caught his consideration sufficient to ship him to Gunnison in January and listen to what the neighborhood needed to say. He hadn’t deliberate a statewide tour, however one session led to a different one. Shoppers referred to as his workplace to ask when he was stopping by their cities. 

“I’ve by no means carried out this earlier than. I don’t even know if anybody has carried out this,” Weiser mentioned. “When this merger was introduced, I had an inkling that individuals understood, cared about and had helpful data. That was my speculation. So I mentioned, we have to hear from folks throughout the state.”

Nineteen excursions later, Weiser remembers just one one who didn’t oppose the merger.

“He was a farmer within the valley who mentioned, ‘I promote nationwide and so this merger received’t have an effect on me,’” Weiser mentioned. “This merger clearly, for lots of people, hits residence, whether or not it’s their job, their pension, their pocketbook or their capability to promote. I’ve labored on numerous mergers. I’ve by no means labored on a merger that the general public was so engaged with as this one.”

He’s nonetheless listening, he added. Coloradans who didn’t get an opportunity to talk can share feedback at coag.gov/grocerymerger.