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Merril Boulton: Shocker
02 September, 2013

Wow what a shocker! The news that the government has seriously under-estimated the size of supermarket fuel sales in the UK is a huge upset of the fuel retailing sector's view of its business. And it's like a nightmare come true for independent retailers. It's as if the industry has woken up one morning to discover that the supermarkets have gained a 7.5% share of the retail fuels market from 39% to 46.5% overnight. Except that it wasn't overnight. It took more than five years for it to be realised that the method used by someone, somewhere in one of the major supermarkets to input rather critical monthly fuel sales information for the Department of Energy & Climate Change (DECC), was downright wrong. Or 'flawed', as it has been so delicately described by 'officials'. What a farce! It means that all this time, through all the significant reviews of the market such as the potentially game-changing Office of Fair Trading's report in January we have been told supermarket growth was not concerning.

We have been told that independents shouldn't be concerned, the supermarket giants are busy in a battle taking chunks out of each other. But if you look at the chart (News Extra, page 10), you can see how constant and penetrating supermarket fuel sales have been.

At this rate it won't be long before they have half the market. The PRA estimates the 'errors' to account for 2.75bn litres of extra fuel sales to supermarkets, from only 15% of the total number of UK forecourt sites. Meanwhile the adjusted figures mean average fuel sales on independent sites have fallen to 1.8mlpa.

PRA chairman Brian Madderson is like a cat on hot bricks ready to pounce on government ministers with his re-estimat


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