The U.K. Competition and Markets Authority provisionally cleared a merger between Great Britain's number one grocer, Tesco PLC (TSCO.LN), and wholesaler Booker Group PLC (BOK.LN), saying that the level of competition in their respective markets is sufficient to counterbalance any rise in prices or reduction in service levels.
Booker is the UK's largest food wholesaler, and also owns the Premier, Budgens and Londis store brands.
The CMA said Tesco and Booker do not compete "head-to-head" in most areas in which they operate.
Tesco is the UK's largest grocery retailer by some margin, while Booker is the largest wholesaler - supplying numerous Welwyn Garden City based company's competitors.
A raft of rival wholesalers have also raised concerns the deal could see Booker benefit from improved supplier terms making it hard for them to compete, according to the CMA.
The CMA also concluded that the wholesale market would remain competitive in the longer term, noting that Booker's share of the United Kingdom grocery wholesaling market - at less than 20% - was not sufficient to justify the longer-term concerns.
The CMA's findings are surprising given its previous concerns over the deal, which was first announced in January.
Its statement to the stock market said: "We look forward to creating the UK's leading food business, bringing together our combined expertise in retail and wholesale". We anticipate completion of the merger in early 2018.
It said on Tuesday that a group of independent CMA panel members considered the impact of the merger in every local area where a Tesco and a Booker-supplied shop were both present, totalling more than 12,000 shops.
CMA said, "This is a provisional decision and the CMA is now inviting further comment and evidence before coming to a final view". This merger has always been about growth, and will bring benefits for independent retailers, caterers, small businesses, suppliers, consumers, and colleagues.
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