Tesco’s acquisition of the former Safeway forecourts is still sparking opposition at both national and local levels, even though the number it now proposes to buy is down to 21 from 30.
The Office of Fair Trading is to decide on whether to approve the deal - which follows the break-up of the BP and Safeway partnership in April - next week, amid protests from independent retailers and wholesalers.
Tesco agreed to buy 30 stores from Morrisons in August, but this was reduced this week.
BP, which had pre-emption rights on 12 of the sites, decided to snap up four of them, in Southampton, Harlow, Hitchin and Guildford.
A further five stores will be transferred to Somerfield, with which BP has an agreement.
The Association of Convenience Stores, which lodged a complaint against Tesco’s proposed deal, has now warned the OFT that it will be unable to use its existing two-market approach for the grocery sector which has already allowed the multiples to pick up several large convenience chains.
James Lowman, public affairs manager at the ACS, said that even though it did not agree with the two-market definition, the deal included many stores which were larger than
3,000sq ft. The OFT has previously used this as a cut-off point for stores meeting its top-up, or c-store, definition.
The ACS has held the deal up as an example of “creeping acquisition” by the major supermarkets. The OFT would not comment on how it planned to reach its decision. Meanwhile, ACS has found an ally in Exmouth where a member of the local council has slammed Tesco’s proposed purchase of a Safeway and BP forecourt store in Churchill Road, claiming it will reduce competition.
Tesco already operates a Tesco Express store on the same road, and councillor Bill Heath said that the deal would give Tesco a monopoly with nothing to trade against.
He claimed that the town needed another medium-sized supermarket that would act as a counter-balance against Tesco.
A spokeswoman for Tesco said that it was too early to say if it planned to retain both of the stores in Exmouth..
Ronan Hegarty