The Competition Commission may yet investigate the way major supermarket chains use discounts on fuel to boost sales of groceries, The Grocer has learnt.
At a meeting called by the Commission to explain how the team charged with the investigation planned to tackle the inquiry, the major multiples and smaller retailers were told that it had not yet been decided whether to consider how some non-grocery products, such as petrol, impact on the grocery market.
The Association of Convenience Stores welcomed the inquiry. A spokesman said: &"We think fuel is very relevant in this investigation, so we found this news encouraging.&" Some retailers offer a discount on fuel if a shopper spends over a certain amount, a practice that critics say amounts to an abuse of their market position.
Meanwhile, retailers have been promised that they will not have to wait as long as two years for the outcome of the Competition Commission inquiry. It is understood that the group leading the inquiry is aiming to have it completed by October 2007.
A spokesman confirmed that it would aim to complete the inquiry as quickly as possible but refused to commit to a fixed schedule.
&"It&'s a massive inquiry and we need to establish what can be achieved realistically, but the team will be working hard to make sure it doesn&'t last two years.&"
Under the Competition Act, market investigations must be completed within two years.
The Commission is poised to publish its timetable for the inquiry in the next two weeks.
The six-strong team, headed by Commission chairman Peter Freeman, has already requested a range of &"off-the-shelf material&" from the major retailers, for which the submission deadline was last Wednesday.
Other parties who are interested in the inquiry have been asked to contact the Commission in writing by June 6.
Richard Clarke