The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) has found that the proposed deal between Sainsbury’s/Asda could lead to a worse experience for shoppers across the UK.
This is said to be through higher prices, a poorer shopping experience, and reductions in the range and quality of products offered.
The CMA has provisional concerns that the merger could also lead to a substantial lessening of competition at both a national and local level.
The combined impact means that people could lose out right across the UK and that the deal could also cost shoppers through reduced competition in particular areas where Sainsbury’s and Asda stores overlap.
Stuart McIntosh, chair of the independent inquiry group carrying out the investigation, said: “These are 2 of the biggest supermarkets in the UK, with millions of people purchasing their products and services every day.
“We have provisionally found that, should the two merge, shoppers could face higher prices, reduced quality and choice, and a poorer overall shopping experience across the UK. We also have concerns that prices could rise at a large number of their petrol stations.
“These are our provisional findings, however, and the companies and others now have the opportunity to respond to the analysis we’ve set out today.
“It’s our responsibility to carry out a thorough assessment of the deal to make sure that the sector remains competitive and shoppers don’t lose out.”
The CMA has set out potential options for addressing its provisional concerns.
These include blocking the deal or requiring the merging companies to sell off a significant number of stores and other assets – potentially including one of the Sainsbury’s or Asda brands – to recreate the competitive rivalry lost through the merger.
The CMA’s current view is that it is likely to be difficult for the companies to address the concerns it has identified.
Commenting on the CMA’s provisional findings, a spokesperson for Sainsbury’s and Asda said: “These findings fundamentally misunderstand how people shop in the UK today and the intensity of competition in the grocery market.
“The CMA has moved the goalposts and its analysis is inconsistent with comparable cases.
“Combining Sainsbury’s and Asda would create significant cost savings, which would allow us to lower prices. Despite the savings being independently reviewed by two separate industry specialists, the CMA has chosen to discount them as benefits.
“We are surprised that the CMA would choose to reject the opportunity to put money directly into customers’ pockets, particularly at this time of economic uncertainty.
“We will be working to understand the rationale behind these findings and will continue to press our case in the coming weeks.”
The CMA’s final report will be issued by 30th April 2019.