OFT contacts top brands in probeCoca-Cola, Unilever and others confirm contact

30 April 2008

A close-up of the security mechanisms on a line of shopping trolleys.

Office of Fair Trading (OFT) investigators have contacted manufacturers of leading household brands as part of an inquiry into alleged price fixing.

Procter & Gamble, Unilever, GlaxoSmithKline, Coca-Cola and Kimberly-Clark confirmed that they received visits or letters from the competition watchdog last week.

OFT investigators also visited major supermarket chains including Tesco, Asda, Sainsbury's and Morrisons on Thursday, reportedly seizing hundreds of emails between them and their suppliers.

Inquiry

The inquiry is focusing on about 100 well-known brands - among them Coca-Cola, Unilever's PG Tips and GlaxoSmithKline's Aquafresh - according to the Daily Telegraph.

Procter & Gamble said in a statement: 'We can confirm that Procter & Gamble were visited by the OFT on Thursday. Consistent with our principles, we are fully co-operating with their inquiries.

'We do not have any additional information to share at this stage, save to say that it is Procter & Gamble's policy to fully abide by the spirit and letter of the law.'

Glaxo and Unilever

Phil Thomson, spokesman for GlaxoSmithKline, said: 'I can confirm that we have had a letter from the OFT, which we received last week.

'We will be responding to them in due course. I can confirm that it relates to Aquafresh.'

A Unilever spokesman said: 'We were asked on Thursday by letter to supply information to the OFT. That is what we are currently working on.'

Coca-Cola

A spokeswoman for Coca-Cola Enterprises said: 'I can confirm that we have been contacted by the OFT for information, and that we would expect to meet them in due course.'

Kimberly-Clark, the US owner of toilet paper manufacturer Andrex, said in a statement: 'We have received a letter from the OFT and will assist with this investigation in any way we can.'

An OFT spokesman said he could neither confirm nor deny anything about an investigation.

Supermarkets

John Bridgeman, a former director general of the OFT, told the Daily Telegraph: 'Supermarkets account for a huge amount of consumer expenditure. It is a £100 billion sector of the economy.

'There is no smoke without fire. The OFT is not going to go big on this unless it has something to go on.'

Last week it emerged that 11 major retailers and two tobacco manufacturers were facing an OFT investigation over allegations of unlawful cigarette pricing practices.

Tobacco probe

Tobacco giants Imperial Tobacco and Gallaher were named alongside chains including Tesco, Sainsbury's and Asda in a 'statement of objections' issued by the OFT.

The watchdog has accused the groups of anti-competitive pricing in a period spanning 2000 to 2003.

The OFT has had an increasing clampdown recently on anti-trust activity. A week earlier, it announced a major inquiry into alleged price-fixing in the construction industry.

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