The Australian Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman, Bruce Billson, has announced his office will closely monitor Woolworths’ planned acquisition of a controlling stake in PFD Food services (PFD) in regard to the impact it has on small businesses in the sector.
Following the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission’s (ACCC) decision not to oppose Woolworths’ acquisition of 65 per cent of shares in PFD, Mr Billson said small businesses in the food distribution space are understandably concerned.
“The ACCC’s decision not to intervene or impose any conditions on Woolworths’ proposed acquisition of a majority stake in PFD is disappointing,” Mr Billson said.
According to the ASBFEO, the deal is an example of another creeping acquisition by an already dominant player in the food and grocery sector, one that could eat away at the competitive landscape and the footprint of independent businesses.
“In this case, it’s the wholesale food distribution channel, which has been one of the few genuinely competitive areas of the food and grocery sector,” Mr Billson said.
“Food and grocery suppliers are concerned about the likely further narrowing of alternatives to supermarkets for their products, with the transaction expected to result in Woolworths significantly increasing its presence and influence in wholesale food distribution channels.
“Small and family business food and grocery suppliers will understandably feel one of the truly open doors for their products closed a little today.”
While concerns were voiced to the ACCC, Mr Billson conceded that the evidence was not sufficient to support ACCC intervention.
He said: “Given that much of the concern about this acquisition relates to Woolworths’ influence on the wholesale distribution channel and the impact on food and grocery producers who are already concerned about having too few customer options, I hope the ACCC will join me in keeping a close eye on how this plays out.
“In the meantime, my office welcomes ongoing feedback from small and family business owners and operators in food distribution.”