UPDATE 1-Lawmakers call on US regulator to thwart Kroger-Albertsons deal

(Updates with Albertsons comment)By Abigail SummervilleNEW YORK, Dec 12 (Reuters) - Six U.S. lawmakers wrote to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) on Monday expressing their opposition to the proposed $24.6-billion acquisition of grocery chain operator Albertsons by peer Kroger Co, according to a letter reviewed by Reuters.Kroger and Albertsons have said they expect to complete their merger by early 2024, once the FTC completes its antitrust review.Senators Elizabeth Warren, Mazie Hirono, Bernie Sanders and Cory Booker and representatives Summer Lee and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez said in the letter that Kroger's proposal to divest 413 stores to C&S Wholesale Grocers would not address harms to consumers, workers, and the grocery industry if the merger is allowed.The lawmakers are arguing that store divestitures as a remedy to mega mergers often fail to maintain competitive conditions, because companies have an incentive to ensure that the businesses they spin off do not succeed.C&S, which secured financial backing from SoftBank Group Corp for its deal with Kroger, operates primarily as a supplier rather than a grocery-store operator. It currently has around two dozen stores under the Grand Union and Piggly Wiggly brands.Other lawmakers, including congressmen Greg Landsman, Brian Fitzpatrick and Josh Gottheimer have sent letters to the FTC in support of the deal.“Albertsons Cos. merging with Kroger will expand competition, lower prices, protect union jobs, and enhance customers’ shopping experience,” a representative for Albertsons said in a statement.The only parties that would benefit if the deal is blocked would be Amazon, Walmart and other large, non-union retailers, whereas a combined Kroger and Albertsons would ensure that neighborhood supermarkets can better compete with these retailing giants, the representative continued.The FTC declined to comment. Kroger did not immediately respond to a request for comment.Kroger has said that it will not close any stores, distribution centers or manufacturing facilities or lay off any frontline associates as a result of the merger. (Reporting by Abigail Summerville in New York; Editing by Sharon Singleton and Franklin Paul)