F.T.C. Sues to Block Kroger-Albertsons Grocery Store Deal

The Federal Trade Commission on Monday sued to block Kroger, the supermarket giant, from completing its $24.6 billion acquisition of the grocery chain Albertsons, saying the deal would hurt competition in the industry.

The agency said the deal, which would be the largest supermarket merger in U.S. history, would also likely result in higher prices for groceries for consumers and, with fewer supermarkets, reduce the ability for grocery-store employees to negotiate higher wages and better working conditions.

“This supermarket mega merger comes as American consumers have seen the cost of groceries rise steadily over the past few years,” Henry Liu, director of the F.T.C.’s Bureau of Competition, said in a news release. “Kroger’s acquisition of Albertsons would lead to additional grocery price hikes for everyday goods, further exacerbating the financial strain consumers across the country face today.”

The agency’s lawsuit is the latest move by the Biden administration to take a tougher stance on mergers. In recent years it has challenged several big deals, including the drug maker Amgen’s $27.8 billion acquisition of the pharmaceutical company Horizon Therapeutics; JetBlue’s proposed $3.8 billion purchase of Spirit Airlines; and Microsoft’s $70 billion acquisition of the video game maker Activision Blizzard.

But in many cases the F.T.C. has lost in court, including in its attempt to block the Microsoft merger.

In the 16 months since Kroger announced plans to acquire Albertsons, the proposed merger has faced opposition. Executives for the supermarket behemoths — two of the biggest grocery store chains in the United States — argued that the merger was necessary for them to compete against big-box retailers like Walmart, Costco and Amazon. Those retailers, the executives said, use their size to negotiate better prices with manufacturers and suppliers, which allows them to sell cereals, yogurts, pastas and other staples to consumers at lower prices.

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