Watchdog to Check out Might of the Superstores; INQUIRY LAUNCHED AS "BIG FOUR" TIGHTEN GRIP ON THE NATION'S SHOPPING

Daily Mail (London), July 31, 1998 | Go to article overview

Watchdog to Check out Might of the Superstores; INQUIRY LAUNCHED AS "BIG FOUR" TIGHTEN GRIP ON THE NATION'S SHOPPING


Byline: SEAN POULTER

THE BIG four supermarkets are being put in the dock over claims that they are exploiting farmers and consumers.

The major chains - Tesco, Sainsbury's, Safeway and Asda effectively control the nation's shopping habits.

Hosts of butchers, bakers and greengrocers have been put under pressure and even forced out of business by the growth of the giants.

And as they expand into petrol retailing, banking and even computer sales, their grip on the family purse-strings is getting stronger.

Yesterday the Office of Fair Trading announced an inquiry into the dominance of the supermarket chains.

A key question will be why, when prices paid to farmers for everything from beef to wheat have plummeted, shop prices have remained the same or gone up.

The inquiry will also investigate why British stores operate on far higher profit margins than those in Europe and America - around 6 per cent compared with 3 per cent.

Annual profits for the biggest chain, Tesco, have more than quadrupled to [pounds sterling]866million in the last ten years. The pattern is repeated at Sainsbury's, where profits have risen from [pounds sterling]279.1million to [pounds sterling]735million.

Profits at Asda are up from [pounds sterling]152.7million to [pounds sterling]404million and at Safeway from [pounds sterling]161.9million to [pounds sterling]410million.

The dominance of the big four has resulted in their combined share of all grocery sales rising from 29.5 per cent to 47 per cent in ten years.

This has been achieved on the back of a furious expansion campaign with the total number of stores rising from 958 to 1,559 over the same period.

The investigation will specifically decide whether supermarkets are unfairly wielding monopoly

power in the grocery trade, covering food, drink, toiletries and household goods. …

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