"Laughable", "no grasp of reality" and "disastrous". That is the opinion of Top 50 independents on the provisional findings of the Competition Commission's groceries inquiry. The commission provisionally found there was no evidence c-store numbers were in terminal decline, no signs that below-cost selling or local vouchering harmed consumers and no proof of a waterbed effect. "We do not see evidence of unfair distortions in competition between large grocery retailers and small stores," it said.
However, every single retailer polled by The Grocer disagreed. "To suggest the impact has been minimal is laughable," says one. "It has failed to consider the impact supermarkets have been having for many years on local community retailers including butchers, fishmongers and florists."
Another adds: "The commission seems to have no grasp of the reality of the situation. To suggest the answer to Tesco and Asda's dominance is more supermarkets is nonsense."
Seventy-five per cent of respondents warn the sector will face increasing pressure. "You will see the independent sector halved in the next three to five years," warns one. "The commission has paid no respect to independents and we will now see the multiples fill the vacuum with even greater pace."
Another adds: "If multiples get free reign to open wherever they like, independents will suffer."
Although 62% of retailers believe the publicity generated by the inquiry had been good for business, coming on the back of the trend to shop locally and buy local food, 87% think this will be short-lived.
"The publicity generated has been substantial but I am not sure the public understands the dynamics of the market," says one retailer. "Too many will view the Tesco near their home as very convenient so the plight of local shops will pale into insignificance."
"People do not base their shopping decisions around what they read in the newspaper or what they say to opinion pollsters," says another. "Opinion polls continue to show people want more variety in their shopping choices, and yet when they get in their cars to go shopping they continue to flock to Tesco."