Countrywide Farmers merger to be investigated by competition authorities
The Competition and Markets Authority is to launch a detailed investigation into Countrywide Farmers' deal to sell 48 of its retail stores to Mole Valley.
Evesham-based Countrywide, which has stores in Bridgnorth, Ludlow, Market Drayton and Whitchurch, had agreed the deal in October and had planned to complete in January.
However the agreement, which would see 48 sites and 750 staff transfer to Mole Valley, has been held up by the investigation.
Mole Valley had "not offered satisfactory undertakings", said the CMA. Its initial investigation found the deal could push up prices or lower quality in 45 areas.
Mole Valley and Countrywide Farmers each run country stores, operating a total of 99 premises primarily located across the south and west of England.
These typically each have a bulk agricultural products supply business – through which they sell large-scale supplies of agricultural products, such as fertiliser or fencing – and a retail business, through which they sell a wide range of products including animal feed, clothing, pet food and gardening tools.
In earlier comments on the case, Rachel Merelie, acting executive director of mergers and markets, said: "It's our job to make sure that people continue to have enough choice, get fair prices and good quality products after companies merge.
"Mole Valley and Countrywide Farmers are two of the biggest operators of country stores, and so it's important that their customers can find good deals when they need to buy these kinds of products."
The CMA believes there are competition concerns in the supply of agricultural products in bulk in 45 local areas while 25 places would be affected by weaker competition in the retail sector.
The deadline for the CMA's final report is August 20.