Page last updated at 11:26 GMT, Wednesday, 30 April 2008 12:26 UK

Supermarket shift: Q&A

Shopper with carrier bags
Shoppers could benefit from the report's recommendations

The Competition Commission began its latest investigation into the market for groceries two years ago amidst concern about the growing power of supermarkets, how they treat their suppliers and the closure of independent stores.

Its final report recommends a series of measures designed to protect suppliers and improve consumer choice.

What will it mean for me?

As a supermarket shopper, the Commission says you are getting a good deal by-and-large.

However, it wants to make sure you have a number of big supermarkets to choose from in your local area.

So the planning regime is being changed to make it easier for retailers to open stores where one or two chains currently dominate.

But if you are concerned about the number of independent retailers closing down on your High Street, there is little in the report for you.

While the regulator says it is sympathetic to the plight of smaller food shops, it believes that the intense competition between shops on the High Street is good for consumers.

It also hopes that measures to relieve the pressure on suppliers will mean they have more time and money to come up with new products.

However, the industry will have to pay to run the ombudsman scheme and code of practice. And Asda says retailers could pass that on to consumers through higher prices.

So when will the changes come in?

Not immediately. The Competition Commission can implement some of them, but not all.

The new, beefed-up code of practice and the independent ombudsman designed to protect suppliers needs the agreement of the retailers to be introduced.

Friends of the Earth has expressed concern about this and says retailers must not be allowed to influence the wording of the code of practice and water it down.

If the retailers do not agree to it, the Competition Commission recommends that the government steps in to impose the measures. If that doesn't work, the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) will do the job instead.

When it comes to the changes to the planning regime, which will give the OFT a role in the local competition test, these must be introduced by the national governments in England, Scotland, and Northern Ireland.

Is this the end?

While the Competition Commission was finishing the final report of its inquiry, the Office of Fair Trading was launching a seperate investigation involving the supermarkets into possible price-fixing on some health, beauty and food products.

The big four retail chains - Asda, Morrisons, Tesco and Sainsbury's - said they were cooperating with the inquiry.

But although the Commission found that the grocery market was generally competitive, it said on Wednesday that this was "not inconsistent with the possibility of some occurrances of anti-competitive behaviour".

So after undergoing a number of extensive inquiries in the last ten years, the behaviour of the supermarkets will remain under the spotlight for some time to come.


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