The battle to buy up UK supermarket retailer Safeway is still very much on, as the Competition Commission announces that its enquiries are ongoing and that the final decision on the four main rival bidders is still some way off.
Asda responded to the Commission's announcement by emphasising the belief that its bid was "pro-consumer and pro-Commission" while J Sainsbury stated that it found "no surprises" in the announcement and that it believed the process had reached the "half time in the process". The other bidders - Tesco and Morrison - also remain firmly in the running, but the next move by the Commission is expected to eliminate one of the four.
What the Competition Commission has done is to send remedies letters to all the main parties in the Safeway merger inquiries. Each of these inquiries concerned the mergers in contemplation between each of the prospective bidders.
The last time the Commission made public the current status of its inquiries was on 8 May, when it set out a number of issues that it wished to consider which would help it to reach conclusions on the question of whether any of the four potential mergers might be expected to operate against the public interest.
The Commission said it had received responses to all its enquiries with the prospective bidders and interested parties and added that it has yet to reach any conclusions. It added that it is continuing to study the issues of competition and choice in local areas through its ongoing isochrone analysis. It is also considering the responses to two surveys it has carried out, of small and large suppliers respectively.
The Commission has invited written views which interested parties may wish to present, on any aspect of the Statement, to be sent to it no later than Friday 4 July.
Commenting on the current situation Tesco chief executive Terry Leahy said: "We note that no final decisions have yet been made by the Commission, who are due to report their findings to the Secretary of State on 12 August 2003.
"We welcome the opportunity to comment on the issues and possible remedies before the Commission reaches its conclusions about the proposed bids.
"As we have previously stated, and as the Commission notes, the current proposals affecting the future of Safeway raise serious issues as to whether a structural change, which could see the four major retailers become three, should be permitted.Although the hurdle for consolidation for any of the national players seems to be high, if such a restructuring were to be permitted, we have always said that Tesco would be best placed to lead this change."