The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) has published a Joint Update summary, Update on the CMA’s work to help contain cost of living pressures in the groceries sector - GOV.UK (www.gov.uk) alongside two reports on its work into Unit Pricing and Groceries. The update on Groceries identifies 10 indicative product categories that merit further analysis by the CMA to gain a deeper understanding of competition and price dynamics. Compliance concerns were identified on unit pricing, the CMA is now calling for Government reform in this area. The CMA has also written to those that are not fully compliant and expects them to make changes to address its concerns or risk enforcement action.
Food and non-alcoholic drinks prices jumped 17.3% in the year to June, which is down from 18.3% in May. On 15 May, the CMA announced a stepping up of their work in the groceries sector. On 30 May they published an open letter with detail on plans looking at competition at retailer level, between suppliers and between raw material providers.
On 20 July an initial update on the CMA’s ongoing work was provided with the publication of two reports: an assessment of retail competition in the groceries sector and a review of unit pricing practices across major retailers.
Although food price inflation is at historically high levels, evidence collected to date by the CMA indicates that competition issues have not been driving this in relation to retail competition. The CMA has not yet examined competition for individual product categories or across the wider grocery supply chain. This is stated to be an important focus for the next phase of its work.
The update identifies 10 indicative product categories that merit further analysis to gain a deeper understanding of competition and price dynamics.
In selecting these, the CMA have taken account of a number of factors, including the rate of consumer price inflation (including whether this has differed materially from similar product categories, and from input price inflation); the importance of the product to consumers; and the potential for further scrutiny to shed light on the groceries supply chain and/or consumer behaviour.
The initial product categories identified for potential further consideration are: baby formula, baked beans, bread, chilled desserts, lemonade, mayonnaise, milk, pet food, poultry and ready meals.
The CMA has found compliance concerns with the Price Marking Order (PMO) amongst all those retailers it reviewed, however for some retailers these were relatively minor. The CMA has identified that compliance is worse amongst some variety retailers.
Some of the problems stem from the unit pricing rules themselves, which allow unhelpful inconsistencies in retailers’ practices and leave too much scope for interpretation. As a result, shoppers may be finding it hard to spot and compare the best deals.
The CMA’s concerns relate to:
- Promotions – some retailers not displaying unit prices for any products on promotion.
In its report, the CMA has set out recommendations on the unit pricing rules and is calling on the government to reform this legislation, to help shoppers spot the best deals. The CMA has also written to those that are not fully complying with the PMO and expects them to make changes to address its concerns or risk enforcement action.
More broadly the CMA is calling on all retailers to give consumers the unit pricing information they need to make meaningful comparisons, particularly for products on promotion, even before any reforms to the PMO are introduced.
The CMA will publish the findings of its consumer research into the use of unit pricing in Autumn 2023.
The results of this finding may already be in evidence as earlier this month it was reported by the Grocer that Waitrose had notified suppliers by email that it would no longer run price promotions for any lines that have been on sale at a promotional price “for more than half of a rolling 12-month period”. The limit, “is to ensure we remain compliant with pricing and promotions guidance as set out by the Competition & Markets Authority”.
Next steps for the CMA:
- continue to monitor indicators of retail competition;
- continue the work gathering evidence from branded and own-label suppliers, to consider competition at this level of the supply chain and its impact on groceries prices;
- examine in more detail supply chains, inflation drivers and the role of competition for the product categories initially identified.
The CMA plan to publish a further update in the autumn 2023. As part of this, they may make recommendations, or announce further work in particular areas if anything is found which justifies further scrutiny.
For any queries on competition matters please contact Kate Newman on [email protected]
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