Three years ago, the ACCC
decided not to oppose the Coles Myer takeover of the Theos liquor chain in NSW
– just as it has more or less waved through other Woolworths and Coles Myer
takeovers in the booze business as the Big Two seek to replicate their
domination of the grocery business.

Coles acquired Theos’ records as well as
the stores and was outraged to find that some suppliers had been giving the
independent retailer better rebates and discounts than were offered to Coles.

I’m told Coles went through the record,
identified every good deal Theos had done, worked out the difference in price
between what Theos had paid and what Coles Myer had paid for say, Widget Wine,
and then sent retrospective invoices to the Widget Wine company for the
difference.

That difference was millions of dollars.
The liquor companies paid up – they had no choice. The story is particularly juicy as Rick
Alert was sitting on both the Coles Myer and Southcorp boards at the time and
apparently didn’t know about the deals or kept quiet.

The wine and beer companies had seen what
Coles and Woolworths have done to grocery suppliers and were keen to try to
maintain independent channels so that they could still control their own
businesses. It looks like they are not being allowed to.

It is another example of the Big Two
insisting that their competitors are not allowed to receive a good deal. Is
this abuse of market power? Apparently not.

A Coles Myer spokesperson declined to
comment on the story as all supplier agreements are confidential.

Peter Fray

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