No sooner has the bidding frenzy around Safeway dissipated, while we wait to see what the Competition Commission comes up with and whether Philip Green will now make his move following Safeway's better-than-expected trading statement this week, than the industry gets another surprise ­ this time in the form of a bid approach for Somerfield.
With such interest in Safeway it was surely not going to be long before predators looked for the next potential quarry, and as the sixth largest player in the market Somerfield seems an obvious target.
But with its unwieldy 1,300 stores, Somerfield has a ragbag of properties, many in poor locations. And it has been troubled by a series of profit warnings, although it is now in the early stages of recovery. So why would it be attractive to suitors?
The answer is in the increasing desperation of the multiples in their search for suitable sites for their burgeoning smaller formats. With planning regulations set to get even tougher (see page 40) this search will get even harder. For a financial bidder, Somerfield is no more than a property portfolio ready to be carved up between the eager multiples, all of whom are clamouring to find new ways to stimulate growth.
Once upon a time you could hold your head up high if you were the number three in UK grocery. Today it is the poisoned chalice, with Asda frantically trying to get to number two and Sir Peter Davis desperate to cling on to that position. The obsession with share is driving prices down, and the businesses that lose in the Safeway auction need a consolation prize.
If Somerfield remains as it is, it will be one of the biggest losers from consolidation. With a 5.4% share, it is not only increasingly marginalised but does not have a strong consumer proposition with which to fight back, like M&S and Waitrose. If an EDLP player wins Safeway the situation will be even more difficult for the retailer.
Whatever the outcome, the news heralds yet more pressure on smaller independents. The one thing that is, therefore, no surprise is that symbol groups are benefiting from this consolidation as independents fight to survive.