New Zealand-owned supermarket operator Foodstuffs may be
drawn into the stoush over claims suppliers are being bullied
by Australian-owned Countdown supermarkets.
Competition watchdog the Commerce Commission last month
launched an investigation into Labour MP Shane Jones'
allegations that Countdown was blackmailing suppliers into
making retrospective payments under the threat of having
their products removed from shelves.
Yesterday the commission appeared before MPs on Parliament's
commerce committee where chief executive Brent Alderton was
grilled by Labour's Clayton Cosgrove.
Mr Alderton confirmed the commission had received a number of
complaints, but would not confirm they included allegations
of bullying and intimidation by Countdown or its
Australian-owned parent Progressive Enterprises.
However, Mr Alderton also indicated that not all complaints
received so far were about Countdown but that company's
practices remained the focus of the inquiry at this point.
The local supermarket industry is dominated by a duopoly
comprised of Countdown and its Australian-owned parent
Progressive Enterprises, and NZ-owned co-operative Foodstuffs
whose members own New World and Pak'nSave stores.
Food and Grocery Council chief executive Katherine Rich later
told the Herald she didn't know what had been shared with the
commission about operators other than Countdown.
"But certainly some of our members have raised the issue that
at the moment the focus is solely on one part of the sector
when in fact some of the discussions are relevant to the
other half. What the Commerce Commission investigation has
done is raised a wider discussion about supermarket behaviour
and business culture," Ms Rich said.
"I don't know enough about the commission's process about
whether they can widen it out or not. It would be up to the
commission depending on information provided to it."
Meanwhile, Mr Cosgrove also asked Mr Alderton whether he
could confirm that "a complaint of a $2 million retrospective
payment was made to the commission" and that "once it reached
your desk, that complaint effectively vanished because
Progressive went to the supplier and basically said it was a
big mistake, that they didn't want $2 million?"
Mr Alderton said it would be inappropriate to comment given
the commission's ongoing investigation.
Mr Cosgrove would not repeat the claims his questions were
based on outside of the committee room, where he had the
protection of parliamentary privilege.
Asked about the claims raised by Mr Cosgrove, Progressive
Enterprises managing director Dave Chambers said: "We
continue to reject the allegations made about our business.
It's disappointing that a month down the track we're still no
clearer on what the alleged misconduct is; we haven't seen
anything to support the claims made under parliamentary
privilege and we don't have any further detail on what the
Commerce Commission is investigating."
- Adam Bennett of the New Zealand Herald