Suppliers shun grocery inquiry

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Britain's biggest suppliers have shunned the Competition Commission's inquiry into the grocery sector, refusing to give evidence despite the watchdog singling out the supply chain as one of the main issues up for investigation.

Northern Foods, which makes ready meals for the top four supermarkets and Marks & Spencer, is among the suppliers who have not submitted any evidence.

Despite taking a battering at the hands of their customers in recent years, suppliers are keen to avoid confrontation. They have decided the inquiry does not concern them, even though one of the three issues outlined by the commission as central to it is "whether any aspect of the behaviour of grocery retailers towards their suppliers affects competition".

Northern Foods said it felt "the focus of the inquiry is based around the premise that supermarkets are driving local stores out of business, supported by the planning regime". The company said: "We do not believe this is an issue we can contribute to."

The commission has published nearly all of the 250 submissions it has received from interested parties. They include just six from suppliers. None of the big names, such as Uniq or Premier Foods, are represented. Officials at the commission are understood to be surprised at the suppliers' apathy.

Separately, Waitrose has joined those supermarket chains blaming restrictive planning laws for stifling competition. In its submission, published yesterday on the commission's website, Waitrose said the planning process and access to potential sites could be "manipulated" to block rivals from opening up in local markets.