Clifford Chance is set to argue its case for the completed acquisition by Heinz of the HP Foods Group after the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) referred the takeover to the Competition Commission.
The magic circle firm advised Heinz on its successful purchase of HP Foods, which was completed in June, but regulatory approval of the transaction remains uncertain following the OFT’s decision to refer the case to the Competition Commission.
The deal included HP Foods in the UK and Lea & Perrins in the US and saw Heinz granted a licence for using the Amoy brand in Europe. Amoy is a trademark for Danone in Asia.
The OFT has asked the Competition Commission to investigate whether customers will be affected by the reduction of competition regarding the supply of tomato ketchup and brown sauce, barbecue sauce and tinned baked bean and pasta products.
OFT director of competition enforcement Vincent Smith said the transaction brought together two of the largest branded sauce suppliers in the UK.
“[Heinz and HP Foods] compete in a number of product categories,” he said. “As a result of the merger, retail customers and consumers could suffer from less competition resulting in higher prices for products such as HP brown sauce, tomato ketchip and baked beans.”
The Competition Commission is expected to report by 11 April 2006. Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer advised longstanding client Danone on the original deal.