The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) has extended its investigation into the Asda-Sainsbury’s mega-merger by eight weeks.
The watchdog will now publish its report on the proposed £12bn deal on 30 April, rather than the original date of 5 March.
Chair of the inquiry group Stuart McIntosh said: “In taking this decision, the inquiry group had regard to the scope and complexity of the investigation and the need to consider issues raised by the main parties’ and third parties’ submissions, and the need to reach a fully reasoned provisional decision.
“Moreover, it is necessary to allow sufficient time to take full and proper account of comments that will be received in response to the inquiry group’s provisional findings and to reach a fully reasoned final decision in the statutory timeframe.”
If the deal goes ahead the joint company would become Britain’s largest grocer, leapfrogging Tesco. To allay competition fears, it is thought that between 70 and 300 Asda and Sainsbury’s stores would have to be sold off before the CMA gives its approval.
Frozen food retailer Iceland is one potential buyer. Speaking in the FT, its boss Richard Walker said “We are looking at everything for sure. Food retail drives footfall and we are the only supermarket that is opening on retail parks. We are looking at every retailer, trying to pick off as much as we can.”
Shopworkers’ trade union leader Paddy Lillis called on the watchdog to ensure the concerns of staff are heard. The Usdaw General Secretary said: “We hope that the investigation has been extended to help save jobs and keep stores open. We were alarmed by the initial recommendations of the CMA, which included the possibility of ordering the sale of 463 stores in the name of market competition. This would put tens of thousands of jobs at risk.”