Competition Commission calls on farmers to supply more details
The Competition Commission (CC) is to focus its attention on local markets across the UK as the next stage in its investigation into the market for the supply of groceries.
It announced this as it published its “emerging thinking document,” which summarizes the evidence gathered so far in areas such as the supply chain, planning and land banks and outlines its next steps in the inquiry.
Peter Freeman, chairman of the CC and inquiry group chairman, said: “Our principal concern now is to focus on competition between retailers at the local level, where it most matters to consumers, as this is where many of the potential concerns we have would be evident.”
He pointed out: “However, we have some concerns about farmers and we have not received as much specific evidence about unfair treatment of suppliers as we might have expected.
“There may well be many more examples out there, but we need to hear them otherwise we would have difficulty coming to a conclusion. So we would appeal once more for suppliers with examples to come forward and assure them that requests for confidentiality will be taken on board.
Mr Freeman said: “This document is a progress report and these are not our conclusions on any issue. We haven’t closed the door on any line of inquiry but it allows everyone to assess what we’ve learned so far and to respond accordingly as it progresses.
“We have now gathered a large amount of evidence about the overall picture in this market, and having gathered this information, we can now look in detail at the situation locally. “
He explained: “We need to see what choices shoppers have in particular areas and how competition works between retailers of different sizes. We know about the extent of retailers’ land holdings, but it’s how these are used at local level, and the related effect of the planning system, that matters.
“It would be a cause for concern if supermarkets, either individually or collectively, were in a position to increase prices or lower their offer in any particular locality or region because of lack of effective competition.
“We are not here to punish success or individual retailers, but we are concerned with whether Tesco, or any other supermarket, can get into such a strong position, either nationally or locally, that no other retailer can compete effectively.
“Our first job has been to obtain and present the facts objectively. We have considered the evidence supplied concerning relationships between grocery retailers and their suppliers. While these haven’t indicated widespread problems in the supply chain, there are still concerns.”
Mr Freeman added: “We have found that bigger buyers do not always appear to get better terms from suppliers, and food and drink manufacturers and processors, as well as wholesalers, seem to be in reasonable shape. “
The CC would like to hear from all interested parties, in writing. To submit evidence, write to The Inquiry Secretary (Groceries Market Investigation), Competition Commission, Victoria House, Southampton Row, London WC1B 4AD.