Battlelines for the Office of Fair Trading's much expected referral of the grocery market to the Competition Commission were being drawn today as wholesalers gathered for their annual conference.

Delivering his last speech as FWD chair, Rodney Hunt, MD of Today's Group, suggested that the real work now had to begin in earnest if a positive outcome was to be found.

Criticising the OFT for its inconsistent approach to the grocery market, Hunt said: “These days you can never be quite sure what the OFT is going to do. Under John Fingleton's leadership it has been full of surprises.”

Referring to The Grocer's recent exclusive interview where Fingleton said that the only reason for the proposed referral was because of concerns over planning issues, Hunt said: “Their [new] focus on planning is a fig leaf to cover up the embarrassment of their spectacular u-turn.”

“The whole flavour of the OFT's [proposed referral] document is that the planning system needs looking at, but this is not the answer to today's problems and never will be.”

He added: “Other factors such as supermarket's abuse of buying power should not be sidelined and the FWD will continue to fight for this balanced approach.”

Other speakers due at this year's conference, held at The Belfry, include Booker CEO Charles Wilson, Musgrave Budgens Londis MD Mike Taylor and Martin Race, operations director for Batleys.

For full coverage of the conference, see this Saturday's edition of The Grocer.