Concurring Statement of Commissioner Mozelle W. Thompson
in Nestle S.A./Ralston Purina Co., Docket No. C-4028
The Commission has voted to grant final approval to a Consent Order that remedies competitive concerns in the dry cat food market stemming from Nestle S.A.'s ("Nestle") proposed acquisition of Ralston Purina Co. ("Ralston"). Pursuant to the Consent Agreement and Order, Ralston would divest its top-selling Meow Mix brand and its Alley Cat brand to investment firm J.W. Childs Equity Partners II, L.P. ("Childs"), owners of the Hartz Mountain line of specialty pet care products. For me, this decision was difficult because the continued competitiveness of these brands is so important to consumers.
As always, the key issue facing the Commission in its analysis of a proposed remedy is whether or not the remedy will restore competition that would be lost as a result of the proposed merger. This is at its essence a factual inquiry, involving consideration of a multitude of factors, including the extent of the prospective buyer's industry know-how, its financial viability, its future marketing plans, and its capacity to research, develop, and make innovations to the relevant products.
Our analysis here was made all the more difficult in that we were presented with a buyer that does not have a record of experience in the market in question, therefore, historical indicia of market competitiveness were not available for the Commission's review. As such, the Commission undertook an extraordinarily rigorous analysis of Childs and its ability to be competitive with the assets in question. Ultimately, my primary reservation was not about Childs' ability to be competitive in the dry cat food marketplace, but rather that Childs, as a financial buyer, might in the near term re-sell the assets in question to a buyer who will operate the business poorly or not at all, thus defeating the purpose of the Commission's Order.
These concerns are addressed in Section VI of the Order, which provides that Childs will not sell the acquired assets within five years of the date of the Order without prior approval of the Commission. While generally I am cautious about including lengthy oversight provisions in such orders, it is appropriate in this case because these provisions ensure that in the event of a resale by Childs, the Commission will be able to assure that the prospective buyer is committed to enhancing the assets in question, thus maintaining the integrity of the Commission's Order.