CMA reveals price fixing investigation will continue

The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) has once again prolonged its investigation into suspected breaches of competition law, regarding the sale of commercial catering equipment.

Its latest decision deadline had been scheduled for June, following a period since February where it reported it was further investigating the issue, including additional analysis and potentially requesting more information and stakeholder meetings.

The extension could suggest that either there is evidence that minimum advertised pricing (MAP) is being employed by some in the catering equipment industry or that the CMA has continued to find it difficult to gather the information it requires about the sector, as it detailed when it exclusively wrote to Catering Insight (see here).

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The case information page on the CMA website now shows no further deadlines for the investigation’s progress. “It has been left open-ended as it is unclear what course of action will be taken,” senior media relations manager, Simon Belgard, told Catering Insight. “We need to acquire more information before we can make any decisions.”

The case began last August, when the CMA met with parties under investigation, and between then and January it analysed and reviewed the involved parties’ responses to information requests. The first decision on whether to proceed was postponed in December until February, in order to give the body more time to analyse and review the responses it received.

Since the investigation was announced last year, Catering Insight has spoken to a number of companies in the industry about the possible implications for the market and the nature of the investigation.

Talking to Catering Insight earlier this year, Manitowoc’s national sales manager for UK and Ireland, Steve Hemsil, said the manufacturer had not been approached by the CMA, but that the investigation will draw a line under the MAP issue. “The industry will then know what it can and can’t do. There’s obviously something going on because the investigation keeps being protracted, and that’s never a good thing, because there is indecision within the industry.”

During its annual supplier conference in Manchester earlier this month, Lockhart Catering Equipment confirmed to Catering Insight’s sister publication Foodservice Equipment Journal that it remains “very supportive” of any investigation into anti-competitive practices in the market.

Asked if the company had been contacted by the CMA since the case opened last year, MD Paul Nieduszynski said: “We have been asked to comment and I think the whole of the distribution market has been asked to comment. As both Lockhart and Bunzl we have been really supportive of that investigation.”

Nieduszynski said that he believes irrespective of the direction that the CMA’s work takes, the topic of MAP will “reach a natural conclusion”.

“Obviously as a company we would support a competitive market. We wouldn’t support and we won’t support MAP pricing. That is our policy and our stance, and I have personally written to each of our suppliers to tell them that, and they have been very supportive in their response.”

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