Commerce Commission confirms will investigate complaint of 'Countdown Shakedown'; Countdown denies Jones' allegation; says won't ask for retrospective payments
Commerce Minister Craig Foss has told Parliament he has written to the Commerce Commission about the allegation made under Parliamentary Privilege by Labour MP Shane Jones that Countdown had demanded retrospective payments from suppliers or be removed from supermarket shelves.
The Commerce Commission confirmed late on Thursday it was investigating the complaint, which it had now received.
Commerce Commission Chairman Dr Mark Berry said the Commission would now "take steps to ascertain the basis of the allegations and whether the behaviour is a breach of the Commerce Act."
“The Commission takes all complaints regarding anti-competitive behaviour very seriously. We encourage anyone who has information relevant to the allegations to contact us,” said Dr Berry.
"I am aware of serious allegations raised on this matter yesterday in the house (Parliament). I understand that a complaint has been made to the Commerce Commission about these allegations. The Commerce Commission will now go through their formal processes to consider this complaint," Foss said.
"Because of the seriousness of these allegations I have also written to the Commerce Commission asking them to keep me informed as appropriate as they examine this matter," he said.
Foss had earlier told reporters there was one complaint a week about supermarket behaviour to the Commision, but Jones' allegation had taken the issue to a new level.
Jones then tabled his letter of complaint to the Commerce Commission, which has yet to comment on the allegation.
Countdown's Managing Director Dave Chambers has categorically denied Jones' allegation and said he would cooperate with any Commerce Commission investigation.
Earlier, Prime Minister John Key told reporters he approved of a Commerce Commission investigation, but said he was sceptical of claims made under Parliamentary Privilege that were not then repeated outside of Parliament.
The Food and Grocery Council (FGC) said on Wednesday it was aware of suppliers being asked for retrospective payments, which was a serious, new and unwelcome development in New Zealand's supermarket industry.
FGC Chairman Pierre van Heerden, who is the General Manager of Sanitarium, told Radio New Zealand Chambers had assured him Countdown would not be asking for retrospective payments in the future.
The issue of retrospective payments by suppliers to supermarkets for past 'shrinkage' or losses became a hot topic in Australia last year and was one of the issues referred to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission for its inquiry into supermarkets.
Australian supermarkets and suppliers agreed a code of conduct in November that banned such payments.
(Updated with Commerce Commission confirmation of inquiry)