The Federal Trade Commission said Monday that it is ordering Amazon, Walmart, Kroger, Procter & Gamble, Tyson, Kraft Heinz and several major wholesalers to grocery stores to turn over information in a wide-ranging inquiry examining the causes of empty shelves and surging prices in the United States.
The antitrust watchdog is looking into whether supply chain disruptions are creating anti-competitive practices among businesses and contributing to higher prices for consumers.
The agency is not seeking this information for any specific law enforcement purposes. Instead, the FTC is sending these orders under a legal provision that allows it to conduct broad studies of competition. The companies have 45 days to respond.
The orders require the companies to turn over internal documents and information about the factors disrupting their ability to attain and deliver goods, increased costs and prices and the steps they are taking to minimize disruptions. The FTC also wants to know how they allocate products among stores when items are in short supply.
FTC Chair Lina Khan said in a statement that she hopes the study will “shed light on market conditions and business practices that may have worsened these disruptions and led to asymmetric effects.”
Khan, who was appointed by President Joe Biden earlier this year, has been a critic of major technology companies and the agency has set an aggressive antitrust agenda.
Amazon (AMZN) and Walmart (WMT) did not immediately respond to requests for comment. A spokesperson for Kraft Heinz (KHC) said in an email that the company “will work with the FTC to respond to the request in a timely manner.” Procter & Gamble (PG) and Tyson (TSN) declined to comment.
The National Grocers Association, a trade group for independent grocery stores and their wholesalers, has pushed for stronger antitrust enforcement throughout the past year. The group praised the FTC’s 4-0 vote in favor of conducting the study.
Independent grocery store owners say they have been unfairly squeezed out by top chains and suppliers during the pandemic, leaving their stores with emptier shelves, lesser-quality products and higher prices for customers.
The Grocers Association hopes the FTC study will lead the agency to “soon rein in the destructive anticompetitive tactics that have been ignored by federal agencies for decades,” Chris Jones, the trade group’s senior vice president of government relations and counsel, said in a statement Tuesday.