After years of delay new grocery rules arrive in a hurry

Big retailers remain relatively silent on new laws signed by Minister for Enterprise Richard Bruton

After seven years of debate and delay, there is now a three- month scramble on to implement the new grocery regulations governing the relationship between big supermarkets and their suppliers. They will kick in on April 30th.

The big retailers remained relatively silent on the new laws, signed yesterday morning by Minister for Enterprise Richard Bruton. Tesco and Musgrave said they were "examining" them, although they have had since last February to do that, when they were published in draft form.

Meanwhile, it was handy for the Minister that he got to tick another item from the programme for government on the very week the Dáil is to be dissolved.

A raft of industry sharp practices, such as dubious demands for payments for “shelf space”, have been banned. The ultimate sanctions for executives of big retailers that repeatedly breach the rules include potential jail time.


Behind the scenes, senior members of the retail industry are flummoxed that they have only been given three months to adjust their systems and procedures to implement the new rules, which will be enforced by the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission. April deadline Retail Ireland, the Ibec division that represents the industry, said it was "concerned" over the April deadline. "This is going to be a headache for a lot of retailers, trying to get everything in place by then," said Thomas Burke, its director.

The commission has appointed Damien Carolan, who formerly spent almost 40 years working for Feargal Quinn at Superquinn, to advise it on its dealings with industry.

Small suppliers and farmers' groups, meanwhile, are delighted to have, finally, reached this point. They have been screaming for Government intervention over allegations of retailers bullying suppliers since 2009, when Mary Coughlan, then in Bruton's job, started talking about an ombudsman and a code of conduct.

John Travers was appointed to explore the introduction of a code, but in 2011 he came to the conclusion that it would not be possible to do so by agreement.

The retail industry has succeeded in dragging out the introduction of a new set of rules ever since. Behind the scenes, it lobbied hard, arguing rules would lead to increased prices during a recession.

The Government appears to have been sufficiently influenced to push the pause button in recent years, probably concerned about being publicly accused of doing anything that might hit consumers’ pockets during hard times. Now things are on the up, that accusation would be less damaging.

A cut-throat state of competition remains in the grocery market, however, the price war is still raging and the new rules will cut the big retailers’ armoury of weapons to cut costs.

Bruton’s department says it will keep the rules “under review” and that they can be adjusted “in either direction” if they are adversely affecting the industry or consumers.