Analysis of the
The Federal Trade Commission ("Commission) has accepted for public comment from J Sainsbury plc, owner of Shaw's Supermarkets, Inc. ("Shaw's") and Star Markets Holdings, owner of Star Markets Company ("Star") (collectively "the Proposed Respondents") an Agreement Containing Consent Order ("the proposed consent order"). The Proposed Respondents have also reviewed a draft complaint contemplated by the Commission. The proposed consent order is designed to remedy likely anticompetitive effects arising from Shaw's proposed acquisition of all of the outstanding voting stock of Star.
II. Description of the Parties and the Proposed Acquisition
Shaw's Supermarkets, Inc., a Massachusetts corporation headquartered in Bridgewater, Massachusetts, is a wholly owned subsidiary of J Sainsbury plc, a United Kingdom company. Shaw's operates 126 supermarkets in Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Vermont. All of Shaw's supermarkets operate under the "Shaw's" trade name. Shaw's total sales for its 1998 fiscal year were approximately $2.8 billion. Shaw's is the second largest supermarket chain operating in Greater Boston. After the merger, Shaw's will become the number one supermarket chain in Greater Boston, controlling almost 40% of all supermarket sales.
Star is a Massachusetts corporation headquartered in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Star operates 53 supermarkets in Massachusetts, forty-nine under the "Star" trade name and four under the "Wild Harvest" trade name. Star also operates a wholesale food business that serves mostly small independent supermarket customers throughout New England and New York State. Star's wholesale customer base includes 11 supermarkets that contractually use the "Star Markets" trade name though Star has no ownership interest in them. Star's revenues for fiscal year 1998 are more than $1billion, $966 million of which are from its retail operations. With its 53 supermarkets, Star is the third largest supermarket chains operating in Greater Boston. On November 25, 1998, J Sainsbury plc, Star Markets Holdings, Inc., Star Markets Company, Inc. and certain stockholders of Star Markets Holdings Inc., entered into a Stock Purchase Agreement for J Sainsbury plc to acquire all of the outstanding voting securities of Star Markets Holdings, Inc. The value of the transaction is approximately $490 million.
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 an extensive inventory of those SKUs in a variety of brand names and sizes. In order to accommodate the large number of nonfood products necessary for one-stop shopping, supermarkets are large stores that typically have at least 10,000 square feet of selling space.
Supermarkets compete primarily with other supermarkets that provide one-stop shopping for food and grocery products. Supermarkets base their food and grocery prices primarily on the prices of food and grocery products sold at nearby supermarkets. 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 prices at supermarkets. The retail format and variety of items sold at these other stores are significantly different than that of supermarkets. None of these other retailers offer a sufficient quantity and variety of products to enable consumers to one-stop shop for food and grocery products.
The draft complaint alleges that the relevant sections of the country (i.e., the geographic markets) in which to analyze the acquisition are the areas in or near the following incorporated cities or towns in Massachusetts: a) Waltham area that includes Waltham, Auburndale, Watertown, Newton, West Newton, Weston, and Lexington; b) Quincy-Dorchester area that includes Quincy, N. Quincy, Milton, Dorchester, Boston, S. Boston, Braintree, and Weymouth; c) Norwood area that includes Norwood, Walpole, Westwood, Dedham, Wrentham, and Sharon; d) Milford area that includes Milford, Hopedale, Mendon, and Upton; e) Salem-Lynn area that includes Salem, Lynn, Peabody, Swampscott, Danvers, Nahant, and Marblehead; f) Norwell area that includes Norwell, Hanover, Rockland, Pembroke, Hanson, Scituate, Halifax, Hingham, Weymouth, Cohasset, and Hull; g) Hudson-Stow area that includes Stow, Hudson, Sudbury, Marlborough, and Bolton; and h) Saugus-Melrose-Stoneham area that includes Saugus, Melrose, Stoneham, and Wakefield.
J Sainsbury through its Shaw's subsidiary and Star Markets are actual and direct competitors in the all of the relevant markets.
The draft complaint alleges that the post-merger markets would all be highly concentrated, whether measured by the Herfindahl-Hirschman Index (commonly referred to as "HHI") or four-firm concentration ratios. The acquisition would substantially increase concentration in each market. The post-acquisition HHIs in the geographic markets range from 2205 points to 5136 points.
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 also alleges that Shaw's acquisition of all of the outstanding voting securities of Star, if consummated, may substantially lessen competition in the relevant line of commerce 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 Shaw's and supermarkets owned and controlled by Star; by increasing the likelihood that Shaw's 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 increases 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 complaint.
IV. The 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. Under the terms of the proposed consent order Shaw's and Star must divest ten supermarkets, seven stores operating under the "Star Markets" trade name and three under the "Shaw's" trade name.
In the eight relevant markets, the Proposed Respondents will divest either all of the Shaw's or Star supermarkets to buyers who do not currently operate supermarkets in these markets. Divesting all of one party's assets in a particular market achieves the goals that the proposed consent order is designed to achieve -- ensuring that the merger will not increase concentration in any relevant market and maintaining the number of firms in the market that existed before the merger.
Seven of the supermarkets to be divested are being sold to two experienced up-front buyers, firms that the Commission has pre-evaluated for their competitive and financial viability. The Commission's evaluation process consisted of analyzing the financial condition of the proposed acquirers and the locations of their current supermarkets to ensure that divestitures to them would not increase concentration or decrease competition in the relevant markets, as well as, determining that these purchasers are well qualified to operate the divested stores. The remaining three supermarkets are to be divested by the Proposed Respondents within three months of the date on which they signed the proposed consent agreement, to an acquirer approved by the Commission and in a manner approved by the Commission. Public comments may address the suitability of the designated up-front buyers to acquire supermarkets under the proposed consent order.
The following is a discussion of the two up-front buyers, Victory Super Markets ("Victory") and Foodmaster Super Markets, Inc. ("Foodmaster"). Victory, headquartered in Massachusetts and founded by the DiGeronimo family in 1923, will acquire five supermarkets from Shaw' -- Shaw's Supermarket stores No. 193 in Waltham, No. 196 in North Quincy, and No. 122 in Norwood; and Star Markets stores No. 169 in Milford, and No. 128 in Norwell, MA. Foodmaster, headquartered in Chelsea, Massachusetts, will acquire two supermarkets from Shaw's -- Star Markets No. 144 in Lynn and No. 129 in Swampscott.
The proposed consent order further requires Shaw's and Star to divest three additional supermarkets, Star Markets No. 152 in Stow, Star markets No. 118 in Sudbury, and Star Markets No. 173 in Saugus to a proposed buyer that will be selected by Shaw's and approved by the Commission within three months of the date on which the Proposed Respondents sign the proposed consent agreement.
Paragraph II.A. of the proposed consent order requires that the divestiture to Victory must occur no later than the earlier of (1) 20 days from when the merger is consummated, or (2) four months after the Commission accepts the agreement for public comment.(1) Paragraph II. B. of the proposed consent agreement requires that Shaw's divest the two supermarkets to Foodmaster within ten days of the date on which the proposed consent order becomes final. If Shaw's consummates the divestitures to Victory and Foodmaster during the public comment period, and if, at the time the Commission decides to make the order final, the Commission notifies Shaw's that Victory or Foodmaster is not an acceptable acquirer or that the asset purchase agreement with Victory or Foodmaster is not an acceptable manner of divestiture, then Shaw's must immediately rescind the transaction in question and divest those assets to another buyer within three months of the date the order becomes final. At that time, Shaw's 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 assets that have not been divested to satisfy the requirements of the proposed consent order.
The proposed consent order also enables the Commission to appoint a trustee to divest any supermarkets or sites identified in the order that Shaw's and Star have not divested to satisfy the requirements of the proposed consent order. In addition, the proposed order enables the Commission to seek civil penalties against Shaw's for non-compliance with the proposed consent order.
Among other requirements related to maintaining operations at the supermarkets identified for divestiture, the proposed consent order also specifically requires the Proposed Respondents to: (1) maintain the viability, competitiveness and marketability of the assets to be divested; (2) not cause the wasting or deterioration of the assets to be divested; (3) not sell, transfer, encumber, or otherwise impair their marketability or viability; (4) maintain the supermarkets consistent with past practices; (5) use best efforts to preserve existing relationships with suppliers, customers, and employees; and (6) keep the supermarkets open for business and maintain the inventory at levels consistent with past practices.
The proposed consent order also prohibits Shaw's from acquiring, without providing the Commission with prior notice, any supermarkets, or any interest in any supermarkets, located in the county or counties that include the incorporated cities and towns in Massachusetts: Waltham, Auburndale, Watertown, Newton, West Newton, Weston, Lexington, Quincy, N. Quincy, Milton, Dorchester, Boston, S. Boston, Braintree, Hopedale, Mendon, Upton, Salem, Lynn, Peabody, Swampscott, Danvers, Nahant, Marblehead, Norwell, Hanover, Rockland, Pembroke, Hanson, Scituate, Halifax, Hingham, Cohasset, Hull, Stow, Hudson, Sudbury, Marlborough, Bolton, Saugus, Melrose, Wakefield, and Stoneham for ten years. These are the areas for which the supermarkets to be divested draw customers. The provisions regarding prior notice are consistent with the terms used in prior Orders. The proposed consent order does not, however, restrict the Proposed Respondents from constructing new supermarkets in the above listed areas; nor does it restrict the Proposed Respondents from leasing facilities not operated as supermarkets within the previous six months.
The proposed consent also prohibits Shaw's, for a period of ten years, from entering into or enforcing any agreement that restricts the ability of any person acquiring any location used as a supermarket, or interest in any location used as a supermarket on or after January 1, 1998, to operate a supermarket at that site if that site was a formerly owned or operated by Shaw's or Star Markets in any of the areas listed in the paragraph above. In addition, the Proposed Respondents are prohibited from removing fixtures or equipment from a store or property owned or leased by Shaw's in any of the cities or town listed above that is no longer operated 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 the Proposed Respondents.
The Proposed Respondents are required to file compliance reports with the Commission, the first of which is due within thirty days of the date on which Proposed Respondents signed the proposed consent, and every thirty days thereafter until the divestitures are completed, and annually for ten years.
The proposed consent order also has a provision relating to the settlement agreement negotiated by the State of Massachusetts. If the State of Massachusetts fails to approve any divestiture that has not been completed, even though the parties are in compliance with the other provisions of the proposed consent agreement, the time period in which the divestiture must be completed will be extended 60 days during which the parties must exercise utmost good faith and best efforts to resolves the concerns of that particular state.
V. Opportunity for Public Comment
The proposed consent order has been placed on the public record for 60 days for receipt of comments by interested persons. Comments received during this period will become part of the public record. After 60 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 Victory and Foodmaster, 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.
1. Acceptance of the proposed consent agreement for public comment terminates the HSR waiting period and enables Shaw's to immediately acquire all of the outstanding voting securities of Star Markets.