US-- Natural and organic retailer Whole Foods is demanding to see proprietary market research data from a local competitor in Portland, Oregon as part of an ongoing anti-trust dispute with the Federal Trade Commission.
Whole Foods is in the process of trying to convince the FTC that its merger with Wild Oats has not adversely affected consumers. As part of this it has issued Portland-based New Seasons, among other firms, with subpoenas demanding proprietary business information that it says it needs to convince regulators that competition remains healthy.
...Materials requested in the subpoena include “all documents discussing competition with Whole Foods or Wild Oats… all market studies, strategic plans or competition analyses relating to competition,” and “all market studies, strategic plans or competition analyses relating to the sale of natural or organic products”.
[Note: It's the FTC that's on Whole Foods case. New Seasons isn't involved in litigation with Whole Foods.]
But New Seasons CEO Brian Rohter is refusing to release information and has publicly attacked Whole Foods on his company’s blog.
So that's take a look at that blog. Figuring Brian won't care, I'm going to quote extensively:
...what this could possibly have to do with us. That’s a great question. Since we’ve been minding our own (local) business and have never expressed an opinion one way or the other about this merger, we were wondering the same thing.
As it turns out, because of their legal dispute with the FTC, Whole Foods has an opportunity to try and force us to give them copies of some of our most confidential financial records – for instance what our sales are, week by week, at each of our stores. They’ve also demanded all of our files that detail our strategic plans, all of our marketing plans and all of our studies about where we are considering opening new stores. You can see the entire subpoena here, and below is a partial list of what they’re trying to get (quoted directly from the subpoena):
3. All documents relating to Whole Food’s acquisition of Wild Oats, including documents discussing the effect of the merger on you.
4. All documents discussing competition with Whole Foods or Wild Oats, including responses by you to a new Whole Foods or Wild Oats store and responses by you to prices, product selection, quality, or services at Whole Foods or Wild Oats stores.
5. All market studies, strategic plans or competition analyses relating to competition in each Geographic Area, including documents discussing market shares.
6. All market studies, strategic plans or competition analyses relating to the sale of natural and organic products, including the sale of natural and organic products in your stores.
7. All documents relating to your plans to increase the shelf space at your stores allocated to natural and organic products, the number of natural and organic products sold in your stores, or the sales of natural or organic products in your stores.
8. All documents discussing your plans to renovate or improve your stores to sell additional natural and organic products or to open stores emphasizing natural and organic products.
9. Provide documents sufficient to show, or in the alternative submit a spread sheet showing: (a) the store name and address of each of your stores separately in each Geographic Area; and (b) for each store provide the total weekly sales for each week since January 1, 2006 to the current date.
I have to believe that any reasonable person would agree that it’s really over the top for Whole Foods to be asking for this information, especially since we have nothing to do with their lawsuit. It takes away the level playing field, creates an unnecessary risk for our business and has the potential to have a negative impact on our network of local growers, ranchers and suppliers. It also could permanently damage the fragile regional food system that we’ve been working to create and, in the end, could reduce options for Portlanders who choose to shop at locally owned stores.
New Seasons Market is a small, locally owned company that competes against large, multi-national chains including Whole Foods. Whole Foods has about 270 stores in cities all over North America and in England. We have 9 stores in the Portland area. Allowing Whole Foods to look through all of our private information about how we operate and what our plans are for the future unfairly adds to their already large size and financial advantage. We’ve been able to build a successful local business being David against their Goliath, and we’re happy to keep doing that, but we do object to having one hand tied behind our back.
Whole Foods says that we should give our information to their lawyers and they claim the lawyers won’t let anyone else in the organization see them. That’s like trusting the fox to guard the henhouse – and we don’t have any faith it’s going to work like that.