At her leaving speech, Tesco’s corporate affairs director Lucy Neville-Rolfe quipped that, with its decision to exclude stores under 3,000 sq ft in its definition of the grocery market, “the Competition Commission became our greatest strategist”.
Tesco’s subsequent investment in building a huge convenience store estate was to have a huge impact on the convenience market, ultimately raising standards in the channel and for Tesco - and other multiple retailers such as Sainsbury’s and M&S who followed suit - securing a very useful, lucrative and growing new revenue stream.
The Competition Commission also stepped in to help Tesco some years later when it forced Asda to sell 25% of the Netto stores it acquired in its belated attempt to enter the burgeoning convenience market in 2009. So what will Neville-Rolfe - now a junior minister (and Baroness) in the Conservative government - make of this week’s bombshell proposals to relax the 21-year-old Sunday Trading rules in chancellor George Osborne’s meaty and unseasonal budget?
Opening the doors to longer trading hours on a Sunday may (I stress may) provide a shot in the arm to Tesco’s ailing superstores, but it will be Asda (and to a lesser extent Morrisons) that benefits the most. Sunday is the most undertraded day for both: Asda’s 2009 acquisition of Netto has made a tokenist contribution in the grand scheme of convenience store growth, as shoppers - empowered by the improved standards that the multiples delivered in convenience - switched to shopping little and often. And the even later entry by Morrisons into convenience has been a disaster.
So it looks as though Asda CEO Andy Clarke’s concerted lobbying these past two years has won the day. A feather in the cap of last week’s guest editor for sure. As to who will be hit hardest, it isn’t likely to be Tesco or Sainsbury’s or any other multiple with a convenience estate. It will be indies (particularly on the high street) and the symbols and wholesalers that support them. But it also spells bad news for publicly listed McColl’s I would imagine. And the Co-op, for that matter.