The Oregonian has weighed in with their perspective about Whole Foods Market subpoenaing copies of some of our most confidential financial records, including our strategic plans, our marketing plans and our studies about where we are considering opening new stores. Here's the Oregonian story from this morning's paper, New Seasons fights chain's subpoena and here's the editorial board's take on the situation, Special on chutzpah, Aisle Three.
Looks like there's a problem with the link to the Oregonian editorial right now. Here's a copied and pasted version:
Special on chutzpah, Aisle Three
by The Oregonian Editorial Board
Wednesday December 03, 2008, 4:11 PM
Whole Foods, already under fire for its anticompetitive conduct, pushes its luck
There's silly and there's federal government silly, as New Seasons Market is finding out.
The privately owned, Portland-based chain of natural and healthy grocery food stores has been asked, and may be ordered, to provide a raft of confidential information to a much larger competitor, Whole Foods Inc. Information such as "all documents discussing competition with Whole Foods or Wild Oats," "all market studies relating to competition," "all documents relating to the sales of natural or organic products in your stores," and, most audaciously, "for each store provide the total weekly sales for each week since Jan. 1, 2006." That's what Whole Foods' lawyers say they want from New Seasons.
And what has New Seasons done to call down such burdensome demands for disclosure of its private, proprietary information? Its crime is running a successful chain of grocery stores in the niche that Whole Foods has tried to dominate, partly by its takeover of Wild Oats, the chain that has since disappeared from the Portland area.
In the spring of 2007, the Federal Trade Commission weighed in with objections to the planned merger, arguing convincingly that it would reduce competition and thus, raise prices to consumers. The agency showed that Whole Foods had secretly plotted to crush Wild Oats and dominate the industry, specifically citing its concerns about price competition in Portland. (At roughly the same time, Whole Foods CEO John Mackey was discovered to have been posting critical comments about Wild Oats on public blogs under a pseudonym.)
Despite the continuing regulatory opposition, as you may have noticed, the merger proceeded. After taking control of Wild Oats, Whole Foods quickly shut down three of the newly acquired stores in the Portland area and renamed the rest.New Seasons stayed out of all that messiness. CEO Brian Rohter said the chain never expressed any opinion about the merger and obviously, wasn't a party to it.
Yet now, as the rather pointless dispute between the FTC and Whole Foods grinds on, New Seasons is being asked to supply its primary competitor with a raft of private information that would never otherwise be available for outside scrutiny. And Rohter says his lawyers tell him he may actually be forced to comply with the request, although New Seasons has filed its objection to doing so.
Nothing about Whole Foods' behavior so far suggests that this is a benign request for onformation. Rather, it is a nakedly anticompetitive maneuver intended to hamstring its strongest rival in the Portland area.
The FTC is entitled to proceed with its dispute with Whole Foods, and in the end, may improve competition in the market by doing so. But it shouldn't reward Whole Foods' history of deceptive conduct by granting it the key to its competitors' vault of secrets.
Quash the Whole Foods subpoena. Let the company compete in the marketplace, not in a Washington, D.C., hearing room.
If you don't know what we're talking about and want to learn more, take a look at the blog posting below this one, We're Just Trying To Mind Our Own (Local) Business. There's lots and lots of info (and many opinions) there.