Today Slurp reacted angrily to calls for a ‘suppliers’ charter’ to restrict the supply of certain products to internet wine retailers such as Slurp.co.uk. Slurp CEO Dr Jeremy Howard wrote to Jamie Hutchinson seeking urgent clarification of his proposal and calling for the UK Office for Fair Trading to be involved in drafting any such charter to ensure that UK and European competition law was respected and that internet retailers were not discriminated against.
The full text of Dr Howard’s letter is reproduced below:
“Dear Mr Hutchinson,
We are contacting you to seek urgent clarification of your remarks as reported by Harpers Wine & Spirit Trade Review on 1st August 2011 – specifically, your call for a new “Suppliers’ Charter” to govern the distribution of wine in the UK.
In the Harpers article, you are quoted as calling for a “Charter” which you say is necessary to prevent the “leaking” of wine to “other sectors”. Specifically, you said: “There is too much product leakage from the independent and on-trade sectors through to retailers like Costco and internet-only retailers such as Slurp.”
As clearly a “Charter” of the kind you are advocating would affect our ability to trade very substantially, we would appreciate urgent clarification of what you envisage and more detail on how you think it would operate. Presumably you are calling for suppliers to be prevented from selling certain products to our company, even though Slurp.co.uk is an established and reputable merchant within the independent sector like any other?
We have requested an analysis of your proposal from our legal advisors, but clearly we need more details before we can make a full assessment. I can tell you though that the initial response we have had is that such a ‘Charter’ directed at restraint of supply against a named internet retailer is wholly outside the legal framework of the UK. As such, we believe that the Office for Fair Trading should be involved at this stage to help ensure that the ‘Charter’ does not contravene any UK or European competition law.
Our company is fully committed to full and fair competition in the UK wine market. We believe that consumers are best served by a thriving competitive environment in which retailers fight to serve their customers in the best possible way. Innovation is surely in the customer interest? Our concern is that a ‘Charter’ of the kind you are advocating will stifle competition, reduce choice and ultimately lead to a poorer service for the consumer.
As such, and as you have specifically named Slurp as a target for the ‘Charter’, we would appreciate your urgent clarification of how it would operate so we can respond accordingly.