Approval comes after months of legal tussles with US antitrust authorities

Organic and healthy food giant Whole Foods Market finally closed its US$565 million (£281.5 million) acquisition of rival Wild Oats Markets today, after months of delays as federal antitrust authorities sought to block the deal.

Whole Foods chief executive and chairman John Mackey said: “We believe this merger will create long-term value for our customers, vendors and shareholders.”

Whole Foods expects the merger will deliver significant general and administrative cost savings, greater purchasing power and increased utilisation of its facilities.

However, the healthy food giant plans to close some Wild Oats stores. In a statement, Whole Foods said: “Wild Oats Markets has been rationalising its store base over the past several years to shed underperforming stores, but some additional store closures are expected, as well as the relocation of some stores that overlap with stores Whole Foods Market has in development.”

It has also vowed to make significant investment in upgrading and improving stores before eventually rebranding them Whole Foods Market.

Whole Foods Market has 197 stores in the US, Canada and the UK and generated total sales of US$5.6 billion (£2.8 billion) in its 2006 financial year. With annual sales of more than US$1.2 billion (£597 million), Wild Oats Markets has 109 natural food stores in 23 US states.

Whole Foods’ acquisition, which was agreed in February originally, has been a protracted and hard fought battle. This is primarily because the US Federal Trade Commission filed a legal suit in June to block the proposed acquisition on antitrust grounds. Last week, a federal appeals court in Washington DC denied a request from the FTC to stop the deal proceeding.