The UK’s Competition Commission today (15 June) published a statement identifying the areas that it intends to investigate in its review of the grocery market, highlighting issues relating to the supplier-retailer relationship.

On 9 May, the CC was asked by the Office of Fair Trading to investigate the supply of groceries by retailers in the UK and any features of this market that may prevent, inhibit or distort competition.

The statement makes it clear that the investigation will focus on competition issues. “We know there are many issues of more general public concern surrounding the grocery market. We will listen to evidence on these, but our concern must be with their impact on competition; we hope those who provide evidence to us will focus on that,” Peter Freeman, inquiry chairman, said.

The report clearly detailed issues that had been raised, but that the CC had discarded as beyond the remit of the investigation. “Unless they affect competition, issues such as the environmental impact of the grocery supply chain, the composition of the high street and its impact on communities, rural land usage or employment conditions in overseas suppliers are not things we can decide on,” the commission noted.

The CC said that it had also been asked to extend its inquiry to consider markets for products and services other than groceries (defined as food, cleaning and household products), but declined to do so.

The statement identified a number of key issues that the commission intends to focus on. Importantly for food manufacturers, these included whether any aspect of retailers’ behaviour towards suppliers inhibits competition in any market.  

The CC also identified questions concerning the impact of the planning regime on competition between retailers.

Heading up the inquiry, Freeman attempted to assuage concerns that have been raised by many organisations representing suppliers. “For us to do our job properly, we need people to come forward and provide us with evidence. We know there are concerns about preserving the anonymity of those giving evidence to us, but I must stress that we are very well practised in dealing with confidential material and protecting the identity of parties who provide submissions, where this is requested,” he said.

The CC emphasised that it was attempting to complete the investigation with all possible haste. “We mean to carry out this investigation quickly as well as comprehensively. We are well aware of the burden and uncertainty caused by an inquiry like this, so we are sure that all parties will be as keen as us on a swift conclusion,” Freeman added.