The Association of Convenience Stores’ decision to appeal to the Competition Appeals Tribunal (CAT) against the Office of Fair Trading’s recent decision to dismiss requests for a full investigation of the grocery market, shows both the importance of the issue and the degree to which the trade is prepared to work together on this matter. It has long been said, and has undoubtedly been true, that we spend far too much time fighting other independents, and too little combating the multiples. This is not unusual – it is far easier to deal with the everyday, close to home issues rather than apparently banging your head against the power of the multiples.
On this occasion FWD has paved the way, with its approach to the CAT in 2004 on Tesco’s acquisition of Adminstore. While the FWD case had to be withdrawn under the threat of insurmountable costs, the outcome provided clarity on the future treatment of cost awards in such cases. This has allowed the ACS to approach its case with confidence.
The ACS case will still be expensive to bring – there is still a huge imbalance between our combined resource and those of the multiples in general and Tesco in particular. However the willingness of everyone to contribute significant sums of money to this action (including FWD as a body) shows just how importantly we regard this issue, and recognises the fact that we may not get such an opportunity again in the near future.