An exclusive survey of the UK's leading wholesalers carried out by The Grocer has delivered a damning view of the Competition Commission's provisional findings of its 18-month long groceries inquiry.

All the wholesalers who responded to our questionnaire disagreed with the commission's opinion that there was “no evidence to suggest that the financial viability of the wholesale sector is seriously under threat”.

On top of this 78% of wholesalers said they believe their sector will come under greater pressure than ever before after the commission delivers its final report in February.

“While the wholesale sector is, in the main, healthy, the long-term implications of the pricing disparity between supermarkets and independent c-stores will have serious detrimental effects,” said one Scottish wholesaler.

“Supermarkets will know they can continue to put pressure on suppliers, having a knock-on negative impact on independent local trade, with complete impunity.”

Another delivered wholesale MD claimed the inquiry lacked teeth. “It seems to have been a political game, trying to seem tough without being so,” he said.

Ultimately the trade does not believe that the commission carried out a thorough-enough investigation of the issues effecting wholesalers. Only 22% said they felt it addressed these issues properly. As a result the provisional findings have prompted a number of angry responses from within the trade.

“The commission appears to have paid little attention to what our sector had to say,” said a source within one leading buying group. “Anything they did listen to, such as our arguments on the waterbed effect, they allowed to be rubbished by the multiples.

Likewise, to suggest that the sector is in rude health demonstrates a total lack of knowledge of this business.”

More than half of the respondents (56%) believe the commission will be forced to hold yet another investigation somewhere down the line. However few believe it will deliver any better news as far as they are concerned.

“As the key arguments of the independent trade are constantly dismissed by the Competition Commission, one wonders if there would be a benefit in any future inquiries,” said one wholesaler.
Meanwhile a leading cash & carry operator said a further inquiry was inevitable as they were now “a growth industry”.

It also stated that should another inquiry take place in the future, it would be unwilling to invest any resources in terms of money or time to co-operate.

The questions we asked:

1) Do you agree with the commission's view of the wholesale sector?
Yes - 0%
No - 100%

2) Did the commission do a thorough enough investigation of the sector?
Yes - 22%
No - 78%

3) Will the sector come under more pressure following this inquiry?
Yes - 78%
No - 22%

4) Will another investigation be needed in a few years time?
Yes - 44%
No - 56%