Social fabric in danger if giant buys Safeway, says Iceland chief

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The Independent Online

The chief executive of the Iceland frozen food chain launched a blistering attack on the major supermarkets yesterday saying the social fabric of the country could be severely damaged if Tesco, J Sainsbury or Asda were allowed to take over Safeway

Bill Grimsey, chief executive of the Big Food Group, which owns the Iceland stores, said: "Ten years ago families would use Sunday to go to the park or take the children to a museum. Now they feed their kids beans on toast in the cafeteria of a big supermarket. If we want a state governed by Tesco, Sainsbury and Asda then that's what will happen unless the Competition Commission does its job." He added: "I'm not a dinosaur. I recognise that change is inevitable but we have to look at the potential damage to our social fabric. People used to pop to the local shop but I can see the end of the small, independent corner shop unless the Commission acts."

Mr Grimsey was speaking ahead of a meeting yesterday afternoon with the Competition Commission, which is investigating four of the bids, from Tesco, Sainsbury's, Asda and William Morrison.

Mr Grimsey said the number of neighbourhood stores had declined from about 138,000 in 1992 to 113,000 today with the number predicted to fall to just 100,000 by 2007. By contrast, the last 10 years had seen 20 million sq ft of extra floorspace added by the major supermarkets, an increase of 50 per cent.

He said it was vital that the Commission treated the grocery sector as one market, rather than one for the big weekly shopping trip and another for "top up" purchases. "We were horrified that Tesco's acquisition of T&S [the convenience store group] didn't get referred because the Government accepted that the convenience ... sector was a separate market, which is absolute nonsense."

Mr Grimsey said he was encouraged by comments made last week by Sir Derek Morris, the Commission's chairman, when he said the investigation would take into account smaller as well as larger stores.

Mr Grimsey said the Safeway bids from the Big Three supermarkets should be blocked but that the offer from William Morrison should be waved through.