Elaine Watson
The OFT has announced plans to review the code of practice as concerns over Safeway's alleged heavy-handed tactics towards suppliers gather pace.
Although a review of the code is separate to the OFT's inquiry into the Safeway bidding process, the Safeway deal provides a "crucial backdrop" to any consideration of the code, said the Association of Convenience Stores.
Chief executive David Rae said: "Real action needs to be taken if smaller retailers and suppliers are to survive and prosper in the future, and a strong supermarket code would be an important step forward."
Currently, the code only applies to retailers with a market share exceeding 8%, and not to major suppliers, foodservice companies or wholesalers.
Suppliers who contacted The Grocer this week said buyers at one top food manufacturer were employing exactly the same tactics as Safeway to improve its year-end figures after some disappointing trading.
And Federation of Wholesale Distributors director general Alan Toft said the OFT should focus its attention on ensuring big suppliers enabled wholesalers to compete on a level playing field.
With the exception of Express Dairies, which recently approached the OFT over an alleged breach of the code, the regulator has not received a single complaint since the code came into force last March, evidence in many suppliers' minds that it has proved a "complete waste of time".
The main problem, said one manufacturer, is that the code does not ban anything, but merely stipulates that both sides should behave "reasonably".
Suppliers have been asked to comment on how the code is working by March 28, more than a week after the OFT is due to report on the Safeway bidding process.

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