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ACCC to investigate “cartel concerns” in fresh food following Kaufland exit

Australia’s competition watchdog is investigating whether fresh food suppliers have been engaging in “cartel” behaviour, in the wake of Kaufland’s sudden exit from the Australian market.

The ACCC is calling on individuals to come forward with any information about alleged agreements between suppliers to withhold supply from the German discounter.

Those with information are being assured by the watchdog that their identity will be treated with the utmost confidence.

‘‘Agreements between competitors not to supply certainly raises cartel concerns and the law is pretty clear on this,” ACCC chair Rod Sims said.

‘‘We would be extremely keen to talk to anybody who has any information about this, we have very sophisticated processes for protecting the identity of anyone who does come forward.”

Kaufland pulled the plug on its Australian expansion this week leaving many questioning the motive behind the sudden exit.

Many experts including QUT professor Gary Mortimer suspected that the retail giant may have faced issues around access to supply.

Shaugn Morgan, chief executive of dairy industry advocacy body Dairy Connect, said he was unaware of any agreements between suppliers to withhold produce from Kaufland.

There are safeguards in place; the ACCC has a regulating role in the industry and we have the food and grocery code,” Morgan told Inside FMCG.

“From our point of view, we’re disappointed that they [Kaufland] are not going to be opening in Australia. A free market is an important component in our economy and they would have played an important role.”

AUSVEG, the peak body for the Australian vegetable industries echoed these sentiments, saying “more competition in the retail sector would be good for growers and consumers alike”.

“We are not aware of any specific issues with suppliers withholding supply to Kaufland,” a spokesperson for AUSVEG told Inside FMCG.

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