The OFT has referred the completed acquisition of Julian Graves Limited by NBTY Europe Inc, which owns Holland & Barrett, to the Competition Commission. Julian Graves is a large independent specialist natural food and ingredients retailer, with over 350 stores in the UK, whilst Holland & Barrett is the UK's leading health food products retailer with over 500 stores across the country. At a local level, the parties are both present in at least 200 locations across the country, in many cases on the same high street.
The OFT's investigation focused on the extent to which the companies are close competitors for the supply of nuts, seeds and dried fruit in the UK, and how much the parties are constrained by competition from other suppliers, such as supermarkets and independent retailers. Documents provided by both businesses indicated that they viewed themselves as close competitors for these products, and regularly monitored each other's prices. In addition, consumer survey work undertaken by the parties revealed that a large number of customers saw the businesses as closest substitutes for these products. The OFT was also unable to confidently rely on the possibility that supermarkets and other retailers would enter the market or expand their current product offerings on a sufficient scale or swiftly enough to replicate the loss of competition arising from the merger. The Competition Commission is expected to report by 3 September 2009