The impact of the Competition Commission’s call for exclusivity leases to be stopped with immediate effect will only really be felt after five years, because existing leases need to run their course. However, the result will be a more varied tenant mix in South Africa’s shopping centres to the benefit of consumers.
Almost five years after it was established, the watchdog’s Grocery Retail Market Inquiry released its final report on Monday, where it made far-reaching recommendations on the food retail industry, including a call for the monopoly leases between landlords and the big four supermarket chains to come to an end.
Shoprite, Pick n Pay, Spar and Woolworths were named as the biggest culprits that use exclusivity clauses or clauses that restrict competition to a certain extent, to block smaller players and emerging supermarkets from entering shopping centres where most consumers shop.
Change is coming
The South African Property Owners Association (Sapoa) – whose members own an estimated 90% of all commercial, retail, office and industrial property in South Africa – welcomed the move, saying it is necessary for the bigger players to make way for other entrants in the market.
“With the phasing out of exclusive leases, shopping centres will hopefully see a bigger tenant mix,” said Sapoa CEO Neil Gopal.
As for the recommendations actually translating into a change in the look and feel of malls, Gopal said this depends a lot on the retailers electing to voluntarily cancel exclusive clauses prior to the five-year phase-out period prescribed by the inquiry.
Dirk Prinsloo, MD of specialist research firm Urban Studies, said such changes are expected to happen after five years, and will occur gradually as vacancies occur.
“We believe that more speciality tenants such as butchers, fisheries, bakeries, greengrocers and delis will start to emerge. It will create an open and free market and price manipulation will be limited, as new technology and distribution networks improve overall quality and efficiencies.”
Barriers to entry
Food Lover’s Market has had its fair share of being hamstrung by exclusivity clauses in its attempts to enter shopping centres across the country.
In its submissions to the inquiry the grocery retailer, which started out as Fruit and Veg City, detailed specific instances where it was either denied access or forced to limit its product offering due to one of the big four having exclusivity in those centres.
Barriers to entry experienced by Food Lover’s Market
For instance, when Food Lover’s Market wanted a presence in shopping centres in Richards Bay and Umhlanga, it could only do so as Fruit and Veg City, because Pick n Pay would not allow the stores to provide their full offering. It was only after years of negotiation – four and six respectively – that Pick n Pay waived its exclusivity.
Needs have changed
Prinsloo said exclusivity clauses served their purpose in the early development phases of shopping centres, but customer needs have changed and variety has increased.
“Years ago shoppers mainly supported two different grocery stores per month, nowadays they support up to five. Shopping behaviour is continuously changing and the industry has to adapt to these changes and the much wider offering.”