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U.S. FTC approves Kroger purchase of Harris Teeter -companies

WASHINGTON, Jan 17 (Reuters) - The U.S. Federal Trade Commission has approved the $2.5 billion purchase of regional grocer Harris Teeter Supermarkets Inc by Kroger Co , deciding the transaction does not violate anti-trust law, the companies said on Friday.

The two supermarket chains said in a statement that they expected the acquisition to be completed before the end of January. The FTC gave its approval without requiring the companies to divest any stores, a law firm that represented Harris Teeter said in a statement.

The FTC was not immediately available for comment.

The deal, approved by the boards of both companies in July, will boost Kroger's presence in the U.S. southeast. Competitors there include privately held Publix and discounter Wal-Mart Stores Inc, the largest U.S. food retailer.

Cincinnati-based Kroger, the largest mainstream U.S. grocer, will also get a bigger presence in the mid-Atlantic region, slightly more upscale stores that do a strong business in fresh food and access to fast-growing markets.

As the supermarket industry has consolidated, chains such as Harris Teeter, based in Matthews, North Carolina, have struggled to maintain market share against rivals such as Wal-Mart, Costco Wholesale Corp and Whole Foods Market Inc.

Harris Teeter currently operates 212 supermarkets in North Carolina, Virginia, South Carolina, Maryland, Tennessee, Delaware, Florida, Georgia and the District of Columbia.

The combined business will operate 2,631 supermarkets in 34 states and the District of Columbia, with over 368,300 employees. Harris Teeter has a non-union workforce, while Kroger largely operates with unionized staff.

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