The bosses of The Grocer’s Top 50 independent retailers admitted this week that they were braced for more of their number to be taken over.
Nine Top 50 companies have been already been bought this year, and in an exclusive survey of remaining members by The Grocer, they were unanimous in their opinion that there would be more sales.
One commented: “It is inevitable. I have no wish to sell. However, if you are reaching retirement age or have no natural succession, I understand businesses taking the money now while the value of a c-store is so high.”
Another said: “They are generally the best retailers of the sector. With the multiples wanting to control every sector, they must be the first companies on the multiples’ lists.”
A third agreed there would be more takeovers but said it would be “only the ones who are pressurised into an exit by their shareholders or those who cannot envisage the wherewithal to address future challenges and profitability”.
There was also a lot of criticism of the OFT for failing to halt the multiples’ attempts to dominate the neighbourhood market, and calls for it to revise its belief that one-stop shopping and convenience shopping were two separate markets.
Asked whether the OFT should revise its two-market definition, 92% said it should, with one adding: “It should, but I do not think it will.
“There is not much evidence from the past to suggest an understanding of the market.”
Another said the OFT had stood by while the major multiples and oil companies killed off independents in the petrol sector.
“I don’t see any chance of the OFT taking a different approach with the grocers.”
Although some conceded that consumers might see short-term gains in terms of standards and prices, most (82%) believed the spate of takeovers was against the consumers’ interest in the long term.
They warned choice would be reduced because the remaining independents would be squeezed out.
Fewer, but a majority (58%), also backed the Federation of Wholesale Distributors’ call for a moratorium on takeovers by the major multiples, so that a review of how the market operates could take place.
But the chief of one leading company added: “It is diffficult to see what measures can be taken to slow down this trend.
“Those independents that are profitable will inevitably become targets, and those that are not will continue to lose trade and eventually disappear.”
John Wood