Begging forgiveness for past misdemeanours The new code of practice governing relationships with suppliers may not have been officially launched yet, but the development work is already paying off for the supermarket chains, suggests exclusive research carried out by The Grocer. We asked suppliers whether they would like to see legislation to curb the power of the big four ­ and found 56% were in favour. That's a sizeable majority. But it marks a dramatic softening in attitude from five months ago when we asked the same question and found that 72% of suppliers wanted to see the government take action. When we first carried out the survey in 1998 ­ at the height of the OFT's supermarket profits probe ­ we found suppliers were split on the question. Subsequently we tracked a definite hardening of supplier opinion against the multiples. The main supermarket chains have welcomed the surprise verdict contained in our latest survey, and they say this changing attitude is all due to the work being done on the code. There's no doubting the positive buzz that surrounds the code. But it still faces one massive challenge: once it is approved and launched, will it be accepted and implemented by every buyer in every department in every supermarket head office? It's one thing the bosses welcoming the code. But it will be quite another ensuring those working under the daily pressures of tight budgets and deadlines embrace the code in the same way. What's also fascinating is how the work being done on the code of practice has given some supermarkets an opportunity to beg forgiveness for their past misdemeanours. Witness Sir Peter Davis, Sainsbury's new chief executive, who last week told The Grocer: "Far too often in the past we have been too confrontational in our approach to suppliers. We wanted to dominate rather than be in partnership." Sainsbury has used the industry's work to develop and launch its own code ­ which Sir Peter hopes will go "way beyond" anything the Competition Commission might recommend. The first signs are that the code, even at this early stage in its life, is already helping reshape relationships between buyers and sellers in one way or another. Nevertheless, the industry finds itself in the weird position of having done all this work and now having to wait and see whether that will be enough for the Commission and the government, or whether they will reject a voluntary code in favour of a set of rules policed by the OFT. {{COVER FEATURE }}