Supermarket operators will be able to continue working together until March 2021 to ensure the continued supply of food and groceries during the COVID-19 pandemic, under the ACCC’s draft determination.
“The ACCC recognises the significant challenges businesses and the economy more broadly are facing as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic,” ACCC Commissioner Stephen Ridgeway said.
“We know there has been unprecedented demand for groceries and other household products, and believe there are clear benefits in allowing this conduct to continue while the pandemic remains an issue.”
The authorisation applies to Coles, Woolworths, Metcash and Aldi, along with other grocery retailers whose participation is approved by the ACCC. The draft determination proposes authorisation on broadly the same terms as the interim authorisations granted in March and June, which allow the supermarkets to coordinate with each other when working with manufacturers, suppliers, and transport and logistics providers.
Importantly, the authorisation does not extend to the prices of any retail products. Retailers, suppliers, manufacturers and transport groups can choose to opt in or out of any arrangements.
“The recent outbreak in Melbourne has highlighted the benefit of this authorisation, with supermarkets and authorities able to meet and coordinate their responses rapidly, maximising the availability of groceries and other essential goods,” Mr Ridgeway said.
“The authorisation facilitates supermarkets working together to ensure everyone, including vulnerable consumers or those from rural and remote areas, have fair and reliable access to fresh food, groceries and other household goods.”
Authorisation covers only discussions and agreements made at meetings convened by government agencies, including the Department of Home Affairs’ Supermarket Taskforce and its working groups, and the National Indigenous Australians Agency’s COVID-19 working groups. The ACCC attends these meetings when relevant issues are discussed.
The ACCC will now seek submissions on the draft determination. Details on how to make a submission, including a statement of reasons, are available on the ACCC’s public register at Coles Group on behalf of itself and participating supermarkets.
ACCC authorisation provides statutory protection from court action for conduct that might otherwise raise concerns under the competition provisions of the Competition and Consumer Act 2010.
Broadly, the ACCC may grant an authorisation when it is satisfied that the public benefit from the conduct outweighs any public detriment.