Country stores merger could reduce competition

The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) has found that Mole Valley’s purchase of the retail arm of Countrywide Farmers could push up prices or lower quality in 45 local areas

The CMA, which is investigating Mole Valley’s proposed purchase of 48 Countrywide Farmers’ outlets, said it has identified competition concerns in a total of 45 local areas. This involves both their bulk agricultural and retail businesses.

The CMA also found that the companies’ retail businesses compete closely, resulting in reduced competition for customers in 25 of the 45 local areas after the merger.

The investigation found that there would be either no or very few competing country stores in these local areas as, while the companies’ retail businesses face competition for some products from suppliers specialising in one type of product (such as DIY stores, garden centres or pet food suppliers), many customers value being able to buy a range of items in one place.

Mole Valley now has the opportunity to offer ways to address these competition concerns. If Mole Valley does not make such an offer, or if any undertakings do not sufficiently address the CMA’s concerns, the merger will be referred for in-depth investigation through a ‘phase 2’ inquiry.

Rachel Merelie, acting executive director of mergers and markets, and the decision maker in this case, said: “It’s our job to make sure that people continue to have enough choice, get fair prices and good quality products after companies merge.

“Mole Valley and Countrywide Farmers are two of the biggest operators of country stores, and so it’s important that their customers can find good deals when they need to buy these kinds of products.”

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