A team of six experts has been appointed by the Competition Commission to lead its investigation into the grocery market.

The group, to be chaired by Commission chairman Peter Freeman, met for the first time on Wednesday to discuss how best to approach the inquiry, which could last up to two years.

A spokesman for the Commission said the team was larger than usually appointed because of the inquiry's scale. He added: "This will give us more flexibility in terms of how we conduct the investigation."

The Commission has already written to parties who expressed an interest in the OFT's consultation. A "first-day letter" has invited people to suggest matters they felt the Commission should scrutinise. Different letters have been sent to retailers and third parties with an interest.

The Commission hosted a meeting yesterday to brief retailers on its plans for the forthcoming inquiry.

The Federation of Wholesale Distributors said that it would urge the Commission not to become fixated with the planning issues that dominated news coverage of the OFT's decision last week, but also to look closely at supermarket buying power.

DG John Murphy said: "It is not just a problem of landbanks and planning permission. Based on the findings of 2003, there were other problems identified, but they were not solved. We feel those problems have worsened."

The National Farmers' Union said it had received three approaches from new complainants willing to submit evidence to the Commission alleging mistreatment by retailers. The NFU said it would investigate the claims of the fresh produce growers further before referring them.

The growers were responding to a call by the NFU for members to present examples of retailer abuse. All three are willing to waive any anonymity.

Kevin Pearce, head of the NFU's food chain unit, said: "Clearly we're encouraged by this response. They appear very genuine, but we need to go and talk to them before we go any further."Probe will cost js £5m

Probe will cost JS £5m

The Competition Commission inquiry is expected to cost Sainsbury at least £5m a year, based on the previous investigation, chief executive Justin King said this week.

He has charged Hamish Elvidge, change director on the operating board, with leading its response to the inquiry. Although he is "just one man" at the moment, said King, he would be helped by four or five people, such as property director Peter Baguley. JS is also recruiting for a strategy director, who's responsibility will also be to take a key role within the dedicated inquiry working group.

King added that it was currently at the "data dump" stage in its preparation for the investigation, with headline data required by the CC within the next few weeks.