Catering equipment firms under investigation

Britain’s Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) will decide next month whether to proceed with an investigation into suspected breaches of competition law in the commercial catering equipment sector.

The CMA has spent the past three months gathering information relating to anti-competitive practices in the UK catering equipment market.

The CMA officially launched the investigation at the end of August under Chapter I of the Competition Act 1998 and Article 101 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union.

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At the time, it gave few details except to say the case was at an “early stage” and it had not reached a view as to whether there was sufficient evidence of an infringement of competition law for it to issue a statement of objections to any of the parties under investigation.

Since launching the probe it has begun an extensive information-gathering exercise that is understood to have involved the issuance of formal and informal information requests from the parties under investigation.

Under normal procedures, the CMA will typically arrange ‘state-of-play’ meetings with the companies under investigation once it has reviewed and analysed their responses.

Rumours have been circulating in the market as to the identity of the companies involved in the investigation, although to date the CMA has not gone public with the names.

According to the case timetable issued by the CMA and last updated on October 9, the decision on whether to continue with the investigation or abandon it is estimated to be made in December.

When contacted yesterday, the CMA’s team leader for the case, Carissa Baker, referred us to the organisation’s press office.

A CMA spokesperson told Catering Insight they were not in a position to elaborate on the investigation at the moment, but confirmed that a decision on whether to pursue the case would be communicated before the end of the year.

“We are planning to make a further announcement in December, so we are on [on track with the] timetable as it were. These things sometimes do slip or get put back for various reasons, but at the moment we are on schedule.”

The case reference for the investigation is CE/9856-14 and the market sector it is filed under is ‘retail and wholesale’. The case type is listed as ‘CA98 and Cartels’.

According to CMA definitions, a cartel is an agreement between competitors to fix prices, share markets, rig bids or limit output at the expense of the interests of customers.

In England, Wales and Northern Ireland, prosecutions may only be brought by the CMA or the Serious Fraud Office, or with the consent of the CMA.

Catering Insight contacted trade body CESA to see if it had been consulted on the investigation. Director Keith Warren said that while it was aware that an investigation was happening, it was essentially a confidential commercial matter between the CMA and the parties concerned.

“Until we know the outcome of the investigation we are not in a position to make any comment on it either way, simply because we don’t know what it relates to or what it is about,” he said.

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