Whole Foods Market said Friday it extended its tender offer for Wild Oats Marketsshares until Aug. 15, marking the fifth time the offer has been extended as the companies wait to hear whether they can proceed with their deal.
Whole Foods , the largest natural and organic grocer, announced plans to buy rival Wild Oats in February to better compete with the mainstream grocers that have been moving into its organic and prepared foods niches.But the U.S. Federal Trade Commission sued to block the deal on concerns it could reduce competition and lead to higher prices. The FTC sought a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction. A hearing in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia concluded on Aug. 1 and Whole Foods expects to get a ruling from the court in mid-August.
The offer to acquire all of Wild Oats' outstanding shares for $18.50 each, or about $553.6 million, will now expire on Aug. 15, instead of Aug. 10 as previously announced.
As of Aug. 9, 16,641,830 Wild Oats shares, or about 55.6% of the 29,926,251 shares outstanding as of July 27, had been tendered and not withdrawn, Whole Foods said.
The government says the merger would reduce competition and raise prices for consumers, but the companies contend that they already face fierce competition from traditional supermarkets.
However, Whole Foods Chief Executive John Mackey also told his company's board in an e-mail that the deal would prevent "nasty" price wars with Wild Oats.
A central question under U.S. antitrust law will be whether the acquisition of Wild Oats would give Whole Foods the power to raise prices.
Shares of Wild Oats fell 5% to $14.27 in late morning Nasdaq trade and Whole Foods shares were down 4.3% at $42.92.