Supermarket chain Lidl Ireland has brought High Court proceedings over an allegedly flawed price survey commissioned by rival Aldi which put Lidl in second place. Aldi commissioned accountants Grant Thornton to carry out the survey in February 2018.
The results, which were published through the mainstream media, said on average Aldi was the cheaper retailer. Lidl claims the methodology of the survey was flawed because it did not, in several instances, compare like products with like products.
Lidl also claimed the Aldi prices were not "in-store" prices but came from a master list. The survey compared an average shopping basket containing 62 items in Aldi, Lidl, Tesco, SuperValu and Dunnes.
Lidl said the survey results called into question the independence, objectivity and professional integrity of Grant Thornton and it made a formal complaint to Chartered Accountants Ireland (CAI), the regulatory body for chartered accountants.
The CAI got a conduct committee to examine the complaint. Grant Thornton denied the claims and opposed the complaint. The committee concluded that despite weaknesses in the methodology, the survey did not appear to be flawed to an extent that it would amount to poor professional performance on the part of Grant Thornton.
An independent review of the committee’s decision was conducted by Edinburgh-bar barrister Andrew G Webster QC and he found there was evidence the price survey had not compared like with like.
He found the survey was not safe and sent it back to the CAI committee for further consideration. He also recommended further evidence be sought from Lidl. However, the committee and the CAI decided last March Grant Thornton had no case to answer.
Ashling Holden, Lidl’s head of legal and compliance, said in an affidavit the committee’s March decision was irrational and fundamentally flawed. It was clear from additional evidence requested by it from Lidl that there was significant evidence that Grant Thornton had, for whatever reason, selected more expensive Lidl products for comparison with the Aldi master list, she said.
On Monday, Mr Justice Charles Meenan granted Feichin McDonagh SC, for Lidl, leave to bring judicial review proceedings against the CAI and its independent review committee.
Grant Thornton is a notice party. The application was ex-parte, meaning only the Lidl side represented. The judge said the matter could come back to court in September.