Major supermarkets and a number of their suppliers have been raided by the Office of Fair Trading as part of a new investigation into grocery price fixing.

Teams of OFT inspectors and their lawyers visited the offices of Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Asda and Morrisons at the end of last week, seizing copies of e-mails and other correspondence between the retailers and their suppliers.

Companies such as Unilever and Proctor & Gamble were also targeted in a new investigation that covers a range of health and food products.

Happy to help

The supermarkets confirmed that they had been visited, but declined to give further details.

“We have been asked for some information regarding a number of suppliers and product categories and are helping the OFT with their enquiries,” said a statement from Sainsbury’s.

The OFT said it did not comment on its investigations.

The move follows a recent announcement by the OFT that it had uncovered evidence of price collusion by retailers and tobacco manufacturers in relation to cigarette prices.

Price fixing

It is also investigating alleged price fixing in the liquid milk, butter and cheese markets.

Last week it had to issue an apology and pay £100,000 to Morrisons in relation to this particular inquiry.

Specifically, its press release at the time overstated the case it was making against Morrisons.

Frustration

Industry observers say supermarkets are becoming increasingly frustrated at the degree of interest being shown in them by the OFT since John Fingleton took over as chief executive in 2005.

Later this week, the Competition Commission will publish its final report into the overall workings of the grocery market, following a two-year investigation.

This is expected to confirm the creation of a supermarket ombudsman and include changes to the planning system, to control the creation of new supermarket stores.