Chief executives involved in the Safeway auction are eagerly counting down the days until publication of the DTI’s verdict on the long-running saga.

Tesco chief executive Sir Terry Leahy was not willing to speculate on the outcome but thought forthcoming changes to legislation which will remove the secretary of state from the decision-making process might have a bearing. “I expect the DTI will put a heavy emphasis on whatever is in the Competition Commission report.”

Sainsbury group chief
executive Sir Peter Davis this week described the Safeway auction as a defining moment for the British grocery market.

He acknowedged that most commentators did not rate its chances of winning too highly, but stressed: “No one person will win this. There will be second and third prizes.”

He told Sainsbury’s supplier conference that the retailer had an appetite to add to its store portfolio.

“The challenge for us is whether we want to stretch our brand to fit our portfolio or whether we want to change our portfolio to match the strength of our brand.”

Morrisons joint md Bob Stott said he was looking forward eagerly to the outcome, “because it will mean we can either get on or get off”.

He added: “We were confident the OFT would clear us to bid in March and we were surprised and disappointed by the decision then. We won’t be second guessing this one.”

Waitrose managing director Steven Esom said he was hoping a clear view emerged from the DTI “both on who’s qualified to pick up [Safeway] stores and whether in future, when new sites come up or if a retailer is selling off a small parcel of stores, the same criteria will be used”.

Asda declined to comment on rumours it has already hired a QC to prepare for a judicial review of the decision if it does not go its way.

As The Grocer went to press, there was industry speculation the decision would be released this week, ahead of the Labour Party Conference.