The UK’s competition watchdog has asked retail giants Tesco and Asda to hand over millions of e-mails to cast light on their relationships with suppliers.

The Competition Commission has sent out legal notices to the companies for access to e-mails sent to suppliers over the summer.

The request comes as part of the watchdog’s ongoing investigation into the UK grocery sector. The probe was set up last year to study the sector, the expansion of the big four retailers and their relationships with suppliers.

Asda insisted the retailer’s suppliers were its “partners.” A spokesperson said: “Just as we have over the whole investigation, we’re happy to help them in any way we can. We’re currently making them aware of the huge volume of emails this will generate – over 11 million – and are asking them if they wish to be more specific about what they’re looking for.”

Officials at Tesco could not be reached for immediate comment.

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The Competition Commission is expected to conclude its investigation by the end of the year.