ACCC outlines concerns about Woolworths’ PFD acquisition

Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) Chair, Rod Sims, said the Government agency is concerned that Woolworths’ proposed acquisition of PFD Food Services is likely to increase the supermarket company’s already substantial bargaining power in its dealings with food manufacturers.

Woolworths and PFD both acquire food and groceries from suppliers such as frozen food manufacturers, dairy processors and manufacturers of pasta and sauces.

“The ACCC is concerned that the proposed acquisition would remove PFD as an important alternative customer in the food sector, reducing the number of buyers and increasing Woolworths’ relative size as a customer of food manufacturers and suppliers,” said Sims.

“The dominance of Coles and Woolworths in food retail means that wholesale food distribution is an important alternative customer channel for manufacturers,” he said.

The ACCC is also considering whether the proposed acquisition could affect downstream competition.

“If Woolworths was able to use its existing bargaining power as a retail buyer to gain better supply prices for PFD than PFD could obtain on its own, in the medium term this could have serious consequences for the structure of the wholesale food distribution sector, such as reduced range, choice, and service levels,” said Sims.

The ACCC is also continuing to consider other issues, including whether Woolworths acquiring a company which supplies its competitors will lead to risks of foreclosure, and the extent to which Woolworths at Work and AGW compete with PFD at the moment or are likely to compete with PFD in future.

Feedback on the ACCC’s statement of issues is due by Monday 1 February 2021.

In August, Woolworths was one of the first conglomerates to emerge from lockdown with a landmark transaction.