(Aug. 29) Austin, Texas-based Whole Foods Market Inc. has nearly completed its buyout of Boulder, Colo.-based Wild Oats Markets Inc.

In an Aug. 28 news release, the company said it had purchased 84.1% of Wild Oats’ outstanding common stock for $18.50 per share and it plans to purchase the remainder by the end of the month.

The transaction is valued at about $565 million, plus $137 million in Wild Oats existing debt.

Whole Foods is wasting no time, saying it plans to sell 35 of Wild Oats’ Henry’s and Sun Harvest banners and a Riverside, Calif., distribution center by the end of September to Los Angeles-based retailer Smart & Final Inc.

Wild Oats had 109 stores in 23 states and British Columbia, Canada, under four banners: Wild Oats Marketplace, Henry’s Farmers Market, Sun Harvest and Capers Community Markets. It had more than $1.2 billion in sales in 2006.

After the merger, Whole Foods has 307 stores in the U.S., Canada and the United Kingdom and sales of $5.6 billion in 2006.

The merger’s end follows nearly six months of delays and court battles with the Federal Trade Commission, which asked a federal court to block the sale, citing it would reduce competition in premium natural and organic supermarkets. An appeals court denied the FTC’s request to block the merger in mid-August.

“While closing this merger has taken longer than we anticipated, we are very excited now to begin the integration process,” John Mackey, Whole Foods chairman, chief executive officer and co-founder, said in a news release.

Mackey said he expects it could take some time to fully incorporate Wild Oats.

“We have found that it generally takes up to two years to transition to our decentralized operations and implement our incentive programs,” Mackey said in the release. “We expect this acquisition to be similar and that over time we will recognize significant synergies through (general and administrative) cost reductions, greater purchasing power, increased utilization of our facilities and new team member talent.”

With the acquisition of Wild Oats, Whole Foods will gain stores in all 11 of its operating regions, with three of its smallest regions gaining critical mass, the company said. Whole Foods also will gain immediate entry into a significant number of new markets.

The companies said although Wild Oats has been evaluating its store base over the past several years to shed underperforming stores, some additional store closures are expected. Store relocations also are expected.

According to sealed documents mistakenly released by the FTC, as many as 30 stores could be closed. Whole Foods denied that it had made any decisions regarding store closures.