ANALYSIS OF THE COMPLAINT AND PROPOSED
The Federal Trade Commission ("Commission") has accepted for public comment from Etablissements Delhaize Freres et Cie "Le Lion" S.A. ("Delhaize"), Delhaize America, Inc. ("Delhaize America"), and Hannaford Bros. Co. ("Hannaford") (collectively "the Proposed Respondents"), an Agreement Containing Consent Order ("the proposed consent order"). The Proposed Respondents have also reviewed a draft complaint that the Commission contemplates issuing. The proposed consent order is designed to remedy likely anticompetitive effects arising from the proposed Agreement and Plan of Merger between Delhaize, Delhaize America, and Hannaford to acquire all of the outstanding voting stock of Hannaford.
II. Description of the Parties and the Proposed Acquisition
Delhaize America, a North Carolina corporation, which operates most of its stores under the names of "Food Lion" and "Kash N' Karry," has over 1,200 supermarkets in the Southeast and Mid-Atlantic regions of the United States. Food Lion stores are situated in Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Tennessee, Kentucky, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Delaware, and Maryland. Delhaize America's total sales for fiscal year 1999 were $11 billion, with most generated by Food Lion stores' operations.
Hannaford, a publicly traded firm, is a Maine corporation with executive offices located in Scarborough, Maine. Approximately one-fourth of its common stock is owned by the Sobey family of Stellarton, Nova Scotia, Canada, and its various affiliated trusts and companies. Hannaford's total sales for fiscal year 1999 were $3.46 billion. Hannaford operates about 100 stores under the "Hannaford" or "Shop 'N Save" banner in metropolitan New England and New York markets, plus about 50 stores under the "Hannaford" banner in Virginia and North Carolina markets. Hannaford entered the Southeast in the mid-1990's. The company's supermarkets are located in Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont, New York, North Carolina, Virginia, and South Carolina.
Under the terms of the merger agreement, dated August 17, 1999, Delhaize America will acquire all of Hannaford's outstanding voting stock for approximately $3.6 billion.
III. The Draft Complaint
The draft complaint alleges that the relevant line of commerce (i.e., the product market) is the retail sale of food and grocery items in supermarkets. Supermarkets provide a distinct set of products and services for consumers who desire to one-stop shop for food and grocery products. Supermarkets carry a full line and wide selection of both food and nonfood products (typically more than 10,000 different stock-keeping units ("SKUs")), as well as a deep inventory of those SKUs in a variety of brand names and sizes. In order to accommodate the large number of food and nonfood products necessary for one-stop shopping, supermarkets are large stores that typically have at least 10,000 square feet of selling space. Supermarkets in North Carolina and Virginia, where the parties propose to divest supermarkets, tend to be at least 20,000 square feet, selling some 25,000-35,000 SKUs. So called "supercenters" operated by mass merchants such as WalMart, which have full-line supermarkets attached to general merchandise stores, are included in the product market.
Supermarkets compete primarily with other supermarkets that provide one-stop shopping for food and grocery products. Supermarkets base their food and grocery prices on the prices primarily of food and grocery products sold at nearby supermarkets. Supermarkets do not regularly price-check food and grocery products sold at other types of stores such as club stores or limited assortment stores, and do not significantly change their food and grocery prices in response to prices at other types of stores. Most consumers shopping for food and grocery products at supermarkets are not likely to shop elsewhere in response to a small price increase by supermarkets.
Retail stores other than supermarkets that sell food and grocery products, such as neighborhood "mom & pop" grocery stores, limited assortment stores, convenience stores, specialty food stores (e.g., seafood markets, bakeries, etc.), club stores, military commissaries, and mass merchants, do not effectively constrain most prices at supermarkets. These other stores operate significantly different retail formats and sell far more limited assortments of items or in the case of military commissaries are only open to a limited population base. None of these formats would constrain a price increase taken by supermarkets in the geographic markets.
The draft complaint alleges that the relevant sections of the country (i.e., the geographic markets) in which to analyze the acquisition are the county or counties that include the following incorporated cities and towns. In Virginia the relevant geographic markets are: (a) a market consisting of the Richmond MSA; and (b) two markets that are part of the Norfolk-Virginia Beach-Newport News MSA (also known as the Tidewater area) -- the Tidewater Peninsula (Newport News, Hampton and other portions of the peninsula north of the James River), and Southern Tidewater (including Norfolk, Virginia Beach, Portsmouth, and other parts of the MSA south of the James River). In North Carolina the relevant geographic markets are: (a) the Wilmington MSA; (b) Columbus County; (c) Duplin County; (d) Pender County; and (e) "greater Raleigh," which includes Wake County, excluding the towns of Wake Forest, Rolesville, Zebulon, and Wendell.
Food Lion and Hannaford are actual and direct competitors in all of the above listed markets. The acquisition will eliminate that competition. The draft complaint alleges that each of the post-merger markets would be highly concentrated, whether measured by the Herfindahl-Hirschman Index (commonly referred to as "HHI") or by two-firm and four-firm concentration ratios.(1) The acquisition would substantially increase concentration in each market. Delhaize America and Hannaford would have a combined market share that ranges from 35 percent to 94 percent in each geographic market. The post-acquisition HHIs in the geographic markets range from 2562 points to 8817 points.
Concentration levels in the geographic markets alleged in the draft complaint would not be materially different even if club stores and limited assortment stores were included in the product market. The draft complaint further alleges that entry is difficult and would not be timely, likely, or sufficient to prevent anticompetitive effects in the relevant geographic markets.
The draft complaint alleges that Delhaize America's proposed acquisition of all of the outstanding voting stock of Hannaford, if consummated, may substantially lessen competition in the relevant markets in violation of Section 7 of the Clayton Act, as amended, 15 U.S.C. § 18, and Section 5 of the Federal Trade Commission Act, as amended, 15 U.S.C. § 45, by eliminating direct competition between supermarkets owned or controlled by Delhaize and supermarkets owned or controlled by Hannaford; by increasing the likelihood that Delhaize will unilaterally exercise market power; and by increasing the likelihood of, or facilitating, collusion or coordinated interaction among the remaining supermarket firms. Each of these effects raises the likelihood that the prices of food, groceries or services will increase, and the quality and selection of food, groceries or services will decrease, in the geographic markets alleged in the proposed complaint.
IV. Terms of the Agreement Containing Consent Order ("the proposed consent order")
The proposed consent order will remedy the Commission's competitive concerns about the proposed acquisition.(2) Under the terms of the proposed consent order, the Proposed Respondents must divest 37 identified Hannaford supermarkets and one identified Hannaford supermarket site in the relevant markets to three different up-front buyers. These buyers were selected by the parties and presented to the Commission for its review.
The Commission's goal in evaluating possible purchasers of divested assets is to maintain the competitive environment that existed prior to the acquisition. When divestiture is an appropriate remedy for a supermarket merger, the Commission requires the merging parties to find a buyer for the divested stores. A proposed buyer must not itself present competitive problems. For example, the Commission is less likely to approve a buyer that already has a large retail presence in the relevant geographic area than a buyer without such a presence. The Commission is preliminarily satisfied that the purchasers presented by the parties are well qualified to run the divested stores and that divestiture to these purchasers poses no separate competitive issues. Public comments may address the suitability of the designated acquirers to acquire the supermarkets at issue.
The three up-front buyers and the number of stores each is acquiring are as follows: Kroger Co. (20 stores in Virginia), Lowe's Food Stores, Inc. (12 stores and one site in North Carolina), and the Sylvester Group (five stores in North Carolina). Kroger, headquartered in Ohio, operates 2,300 supermarkets in 31 states. Kroger is buying the stores in the Richmond and Tidewater areas where it does not currently operate supermarkets. Lowe's, a North Carolina corporation, operates 86 supermarkets throughout North Carolina and Virginia. Lowe's is buying supermarkets in Wilmington and Raleigh. Lowe's has a small presence in Raleigh, operating two supermarkets in that market, but operates no supermarkets in Wilmington. The Sylvester Group, a family-owned firm, operates 26 "Piggly Wiggly" supermarkets in rural North Carolina and will acquire five stores. The Sylvester Group operates one store in Duplin County, but the Hannaford it is acquiring is 20 miles from that store. A list of the specific supermarkets that Delhaize America and Hannaford must divest to each of the up-front buyers is attached at the end of this Analysis of the Draft Complaint and Proposed Consent Order to Aid Public Comment.
The proposed consent order requires that, no later than 10 days after the date on which the consent order becomes final, the Proposed Respondents shall divest these assets pursuant to and in accordance with their agreements with the buyers. The amount of time required for the divestitures varies with each of the buyers, based on the buyer's need to convert large numbers of new stores into its operations.
The proposed consent order also requires the Proposed Respondents to include rescission provisions in its up-front buyer agreements that allow it to rescind the transaction(s) if the Commission, after the comment period, decides to reject any of the up-front buyers. If, at the time the Commission decides to make the proposed consent order final, the Commission notifies the Proposed Respondents that any of the up-front buyers to which they have divested a supermarket or site is not an acceptable acquirer, or that any up-front buyer agreement is not an acceptable manner of divestiture, then the Proposed Respondents must immediately rescind the transaction in question and divest those assets within three months after the proposed consent order becomes final. At that time, the Proposed Respondents must divest those assets only to an acquirer that receives the prior approval of the Commission and only in a manner that receives the prior approval of the Commission. In the event that any Commission-approved buyer is unable to take or keep possession of any of the supermarkets identified for divestiture, a trustee that the Commission may appoint has the power to divest any additional ancillary assets and effect such arrangements as are necessary to satisfy the requirements of the proposed consent order.
The proposed consent order specifically requires the Proposed Respondents to:
The proposed consent order also enables the Commission to appoint a trustee to divest any supermarkets or site identified in the order that Delhaize America and Hannaford have not divested to satisfy the requirements of the proposed consent order. The proposed consent order also enables the Commission to seek civil penalties against Delhaize or Delhaize America for non-compliance with the proposed consent order.
For a period of 10 years from the date the proposed consent order becomes final, the Proposed Respondents are required to provide written notice to the Commission prior to acquiring supermarket assets located in, or any interest (such as stock) in any entity that owns or operates a supermarket located in the county or counties that include the relevant geographic areas. Proposed Respondents may not complete such an acquisition until they have provided information requested by the Commission. This provision does not restrict the Proposed Respondents from constructing new supermarket facilities on their own; nor does it restrict the Proposed Respondents from leasing facilities not operated as supermarkets within the previous six months.
For a period of 10 years, the proposed consent order also prohibits the Proposed Respondents from entering into or enforcing any agreement that restricts the ability of any person that acquires any supermarket, any leasehold interest in any supermarket, or any interest in any retail location used as a supermarket on or after January 1, 1998, to operate a supermarket at that site if such supermarket was formerly owned or operated by the Proposed Respondents in the county or counties that include the relevant geographic areas. In addition, the Proposed Respondents may not remove fixtures or equipment from a store or property owned or leased in these counties that is no longer in operation as a supermarket, except (1) prior to a sale, sublease, assignment, or change in occupancy, or (2) to relocate such fixtures or equipment in the ordinary course of business to any other supermarket owned or operated by Proposed Respondents.
The Proposed Respondents are required to provide to the Commission a report of compliance with the proposed consent order within 30 days following the date on which they signed the proposed consent, every 30 days thereafter until the divestitures are completed, and annually for a period of 10 years.
V. Opportunity for Public Comment
The proposed consent order has been placed on the public record for 30 days for receipt of comments by interested persons. Comments received during this period will become part of the public record. After 30 days, the Commission will again review the proposed consent order and the comments received and will decide whether it should withdraw from the agreement or make the proposed consent order final.
By accepting the proposed consent order subject to final approval, the Commission anticipates that the competitive problems alleged in the complaint will be resolved. The purpose of this analysis is to invite public comment on the proposed consent order, including the proposed sale of supermarkets to the various independent buyers listed below, in order to aid the Commission in its determination of whether to make the proposed consent order final. This analysis is not intended to constitute an official interpretation of the proposed consent order nor is it intended to modify the terms of the proposed consent order in any way.
TO ANALYSIS OF THE COMPLAINT
AND PROPOSED CONSENT ORDER TO AID PUBLIC COMMENT
Supermarkets Divested to Kroger:
Supermarkets and Unbuilt Site Divested to Lowe's:
Supermarkets Divested to Ward Sylvester:
1. The HHI is a measurement of market concentration calculated by summing the squares of the individual market shares of all the participants.
2. Acceptance of the proposed consent order for public comment terminates the Hart-Scott-Rodino waiting period and enables Delhaize America to immediately acquire the Hannaford voting stock.