Amazon deal seen as disruptor of grocery business

Friday, 23 Jun, 2017

"I think that this takes all of the pressure off Whole Foods and gives Whole Foods the opportunity to revitalise that business and, of course, it stems the criticism from all of these activist investors", said Neil Saunders, managing director of GlobalData Retail in NY. Anderson advised Whole Foods alongside senior Evercore bankers Eduardo Mestre and William Hiltz.

Ginny Byrne of Plainville said she uses Amazon, finding the shopping to be easy.

In Jackson, Mississippi, 59-year-old Deborah Sullivan says she does order some items online, but when it comes to clothes and food, she prefers to touch and feel the items.

Amazon already offers grocery-delivery services in five markets, but the Whole Foods purchase would let it expand to many more.

The announcement had immediate and punishing consequences on Wall Street for retailers, such as Wal-Mart Stores, that sell groceries and are expected to face even tougher competition with Amazon now much more active in the space. The acquisition marks an enormous step for Amazon, moving the company from being a predominantly web-based retailer to one that operates physical stores too.

Set up in 1978, Whole Foods, whose stores now span more than 430 locations, has found it hard to attract more mainstream consumers as Walmart and other large chains have stepped up their sales of natural and organic products.

Online delivery of groceries so far has been tough for any company to pull off because of customers' concerns about the quality of meat and produce, Wedbush Securities analyst Michael Pachter said.

"Government antitrust enforcers should block this merger", said Barry C. Lynn, director of the Open Markets Program at New America, a Washington think tank. "We'd like to see what we're buying", he said.

The grocery and supermarket industry in the United States is huge, with $12.2 billion in profit, but growing slowly, at a measured 1 percent pace, according to retail analyst IBIS World.

Amazon's strong record of keeping prices low adds pressure on supermarket chains that may be forced to consolidate to cut costs in a bid to keep up.

Whole Foods Market started in 1978, and employees about 87000 people in its roughly 460 stores across the US, UK and Canada.

Whole Foods has already been reducing prices to try to turn around its worst sales slump since going public in 1992. The companies said they expect to close the transaction during the second half of 2017. However, the merchandising will emerge more slowly as a system is developed, Hauptman said. Only expectedly so, as grocery stores in the last few years have been fighting online as well as overseas players coming into the industry.

"Retweet if you've also spent $13 billion at Whole Foods", quipped the comedian Chelsea Handler.

SAM BERNSTEIN: I don't know.

Hauptman said millenials will likely change how food stores market and sell their products.