A high level of activity in the wholesale world during August is usually a sign that good weather is boosting the business. But, a close look this year would have revealed that most of the midnight oil was actually being burnt by the management teams responding to a recent request for information from the Competition Commission.
As part of its current inquiry into the UK’s grocery retail market, the CC sent leading wholesalers a fulsome questionnaire during the second week of the month requiring them to provide huge amounts of data. The situation was not helped by a rather ambitious deadline of September 4 being set for the work to be accomplished. But to give them their due, the CC has given time extensions to all wholesalers who have requested them. Not surprising really when you consider that even the mighty Tesco, with all its resources, needed more time. Mind you, the retailers got some 130 questions to answer while FWD members got 60. But then again, the major multiples have probably got more to answer for.
The two questionnaires show that this inquiry is intended to be thoroughly wide ranging and that it will dig into all the issues. That is why wholesalers are giving this their best shot – it is a final chance to restore fairness to the market that requires and is getting their total commitment.
As well as the individual responses from leading wholesale companies, there will also be a private hearing for FWD to give evidence. A top team of wholesalers will appear with me before a group of CC members who are actually carrying out the market inquiry.
The procedure is not adversarial and the purpose of the hearing is to help the CC gain a sound understanding of the issues raised in the inquiry. The hearing was being scheduled as this issue of ProWholesaler was going to press.
FWD facilitated another important part of the fact-finding process on the last day of August. The CC had asked our help in arranging a couple of site visits to wholesale depots – one cash and carry, and one delivered depot – in order to give them an insight into the way our industry operates.
With the help of Bestway and Londis this was duly organised and a party of seven, including three CC group members (of whom there are six conducting the inquiry), toured facilities at Park Royal in London and at Andover. They were not seeking evidence, as such, but just needed to understand how the wholesale channel operates within the context of the overall retail grocery market.