Convenience store retailers have urged the Office of Fair Trading to move on the findings of the watchdog’s own research into anti-competitive behaviour and instigate a market review.
The OFT report found that one-third of SMEs in the retail and wholesale sector felt they had suffered due to practices such as price-fixing, cartels and collusion to set tendering prices.
But only 18% of those quizzed by the OFT - which included grocery retail and wholesale businesses - said they would report a larger competitor trying to push them out of the market by selling products below cost.
James Lowman of the ACS said the findings should give the
OFT all the proof it needed to launch a new review of the grocery market.
He said: “This report puts pressure on them to act. At the very least, the OFT must ask what this anti-competitive behaviour is and why it’s not being reported.”
Spar UK MD Jerry Marwood backed the ACS, saying a market review was needed now, with a clear picture of what the retail environment should look like.
“It’s often impossible to report bad practice anyway,” he added. “We’ve had occasions when a product has been sold in another supermarket for less than we can buy it from our supplier. But how can we prove it?”
Campaigners have also used the report’s findings to highlight why small suppliers are too afraid to shop the supermarkets for anti-competitive behaviour.
Victoria Carson, of the Forum of Private Business, said the big problem with the existing supermarkets code of practice was that the OFT would not investigate complaints on an anonymous basis. She said: “The fear of retribution is as rife as the supermarkets’ anti-competitive practices. Everyone knows that. It is incumbent on the OFT to find a way to accept complaints from small businesses, which are made confidentially.”
In publishing its report, the OFT again called for all SMEs to report any practices that they believe are anti-competitive.
But very little evidence was submitted to the OFT in its review of the supermarkets code of practice. It then gave the industry until the end of May to provide concrete evidence of any breaches of the code. The OFT now expects to publish a report on the code of practice some time in August.
Rachel Barnes