Off-licence merger `to avoid MMC'

WHITBREAD AND Allied Domecq are understood to have received confidential guidance that the proposed merger of their Threshers and Victoria Wine off-licence chains will not fall foul of the competition authorities. The size of the deal means it is certain to be examined by the Office of Fair Trading, but industry experts said the guidance had been that a referral to the Monopolies and Mergers Commission was unlikely.

The two companies confirmed yesterday that they are in talks about a possible 50-50 joint venture that would have 3,000 branches and annual sales of pounds 1.3bn. The venture's share of the total take-home drinks market would be around 13 per cent. However, it would have nearly one- third of the high street off-licence market.