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Whole Foods to Sell Stores in FTC Settlement

WASHINGTON (CN) - Whole Foods Market Inc. must sell 32 Wild Oats stores it acquired in 2007 as part of an agreement announced Friday with the Federal Trade Commission that will "substantially restore competition that was eliminated" by the company's acquisition of its biggest rival.

The consent order also requires Whole Foods to sell Wild Oats intellectual property, including unrestricted rights to the Wild Oats brand.

The move is intended to re-establish competition with Whole Foods, the FTC said in a statement.

In June 2007, the FTC alleged that Whole Foods' acquisition of Wild Oats violated federal antitrust laws, claiming the take-over would reduce competition and harm consumers through higher prices and reduced quality.

"As a result of this settlement, American consumers will see more choices and lower prices for organic foods," FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz said in a statement.

Whole Foods and Wild Oats merged in February 2007; the move allowed Whole Foods to acquire 100 percent of Wild Oats' voting shares totaling $700 million.

The FTC still must vote on the consent order to make it official. If it does, Whole Foods has six months to sell the Wild Oats stores and related assets to FTC-approved buyers.

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