A coalition of about 100 organizations have launched a “Stop the Merger” campaign website, aimed at swaying regulators to block The Kroger Co.’s $24.6 billion deal to acquire Albertsons Cos.
Located at NoGroceryMerger.com, the effort encompasses a diverse range of supporters—unions; communities, citizens groups, farmers, fair trade and employment organizations, and social justice and women’s advocacy groups, among a host of other stakeholders—who claim the grocery retail mega-merger is anti-competitive and will trigger higher prices for consumers, “hundreds of thousands” of job cuts and an imbalanced playing field for manufacturers and farmers.
In addition, the website said hundreds of stores could be closed or sold, customers will have less choice of where to shop and small food producers would find it harder to compete in the grocery arena.
Under the proposed merger, announced in mid-October, Cincinnati-based Kroger plans to acquire Boise, Idaho-based Albertsons, a transaction that would unite the nation’s two largest supermarket retailers. Combined, the companies would operate 4,996 stores, 3,972 pharmacies, 2,015 fuel centers, 66 distribution centers and 52 manufacturing plants across 48 states and the District of Columbia.
“This merger would be devastating for workers and consumers alike and must be stopped. A merger of two of the largest grocery companies in the nation will no doubt create a monopoly in the grocery industry, leading to store closures, thousands of lost jobs and higher food prices. The merger also poses a huge threat to farm producers and other suppliers as well as smaller independent grocers,” the Stop the Merger campaign said on its website, unveiled Tuesday. “Union grocery workers, consumers, elected officials and community members are standing together to fight for access to nutritious food, safe shopping experiences and investment in good jobs in our communities.”
A button on the NoGroceryMerger homepage enables those opposed to the Kroger-Albertsons merger to send a message to the Federal Trade Commission. The top of the message reads, “Tell the Federal Trade Commission: Stop the Kroger-Albertsons Mega-Merger Now!”.
Other content on the site includes videos and a fact sheet analyzing the potential impact of the planned merger, testimonials from United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) members employed by Kroger or Albertsons, media reports on the pending merger deal, and a list of Stop the Merger supporters. The site also has links to Facebook, Twitter and Instagram pages. Besides UFCW, other unions supporting Stop the Merger include locals of the AFL-CIO and Teamsters.
Rep. Katie Porter (D., California) also is listed on the website as a Stop the Merger supporter.
“This proposed merger of Kroger and Albertsons for me, and the families of Orange County [California] and across this country, it’s not some hypothetical harm. It’s real and it’s personal,” a quote from Porter on the website states. “Market consolidation has eroded a key foundation of our capitalist economy—competition. Without competition, families are forced to pay higher and higher prices often for less and less of the product. Over the coming weeks and months, we are going to fight like hell to stop this merger because it’s bad for workers, bad for families and bad for our entire economy.”
The Stop the Merger campaign’s NoGroceryMerger website comes less than a week after Kroger confirmed that it has enlisted former U.S. House Speaker John Boehner (R., Ohio) as a strategic adviser, with the merger agreement now well into the antitrust review process. Boehner, now a senior strategic adviser at Washington, D.C., lobbying and legal powerhouse Squire Patton Boggs, is slated to serve as a “strategic counsel” for Kroger but hasn’t registered as a lobbyist. Kroger has retained the services of Squire Patton Boggs, and ex-aides for Boehner, though, are reportedly part of the lobbying team.
Opposition to the Kroger-Albertsons merger deal has continued to grow. In mid-February, for instance, Arizona Attorney General Kris Mayes announced an investigation of the proposed transaction, citing concerns about its possible impact on the state’s grocery retail market.
The investigation marked one of the latest obstacles for the proposed merger on the legal front. Earlier in February, a group of 25 consumers from 11 states filed a private lawsuit in federal court to block the merger as well as terminate a $4 billion special dividend payment by Albertsons that was disclosed when the agreement was announced. Colorado and Washington state also are pursuing their own investigations to potentially block the merger. UFCW, the nation’s largest grocery retail and food workers union, and its local chapters also have spoken out against a combination of Kroger and Albertsons.
In early December, Kroger said it received a second request for information from the FTC on the proposed merger. But earlier this month, Kroger Chairman and CEO Rodney McMullen said negotiations to gain regulatory clearance for the merger are progressing.
“We are working cooperatively with regulators, responding to the Federal Trade Commission’s second request, and in discussions about the transaction, while also working to identify potential buyers for the stores we expect to divest to obtain clearance for the transaction,” McMullen said in a March 2 call with analysts on Kroger’s fiscal 2022 results. (Call transcript provided by AlphaSense.)
“We are pleased with the level of interest received thus far,” McMullen added in the call, “and will work towards finding a solution that benefits all stakeholders. We remain on track to close the transaction in early 2024.”
Kroger and Albertsons have said they expect to finalize the deal in early 2024, pending federal and state regulatory approval and other closing conditions. But Wall Street analysts and other industry observers say antitrust clearance is likely to take longer for such a large transaction—the biggest U.S. supermarket merger ever—and could last up to two years.