Adam Leyland

It’s almost two years since The Grocer put together its last ‘Power List.’ And - OMG - there’s been a lot of comings and goings in the corridors of power. In total 44 former power brokers have lost their seat at the Power List table. The obvious casualties have been a few high-profile dismissals at the top of the food chain. It’s also notable how much churn there’s been on the supplier side, with new UK leaders still finding their feet at the likes of Mars, Unilever, CCE, R&R, PepsiCo, ABInBev and Diageo to name but a few. 

Some who’ve fallen off the list have retired, or moved on to pastures new (or sadly died, in the case of Graham Mackay). But the list also reflects seismic shifts in power as individuals - while still in their job - struggle to exert the same influence they once enjoyed. 

On the other hand, this upheaval means there are 44 new movers and shakers in our list, exciting people who are going places, and making things happen. And that makes this year’s Power List a more uplifting experience than you might expect when reflecting on the disturbance in the market. Who’s at no 1? You’ll have to go here to find out.

But I want to talk about our entry at no 43. In an earlier draft of our Power List, the Groceries Code Adjudicator was at no 78, a change of two places over her position in 2013, reflecting her minimal influence since she took up office. 

Indeed, it must have been embarrassing to Tacon that it took a Tesco whistleblower to uncover evidence of impropriety towards suppliers. 

In the course of these past two weeks, however, the GCA’s powers have been advanced considerably. First, she has been granted the power to fine supermarkets up to 1% of their annual turnover. Now she’s actually launched an inquiry - albeit she’s using information given voluntarily by Tesco from its Deloittle investigation. 

So: should Tacon feature even higher in our Power List? I’m not convinced. Assuming the GCA finds evidence of wrongdoing, she can make a big noise about misdeeds, but she won’t be able to fine Tesco as they will fall before the powers were granted. This gives her a free hit and acts as a head on a pike for the rest of the industry. It also means Tesco and Dave Lewis almost get a free hit as well, as it is more legacy bad news and shows Lewis clearing away all the nasty stuff that caused the problems.

But by the time she assumes those powers a) I expect Tesco et al to put their house in order and b) even if there is abuse in the future, I still don’t expect suppliers would be willing to snitch. It’s hard enough to get suppliers to speak off the record about the supermarkets. Asking them to divulge a payment they are willing to forego in the interests of a long-term relationship? No way.