The Ministry of Internal Affairs (“Ministry“) prepared new additional circular regarding measures to combat COVID-19 at grocery stores (“Circular“). The Circular regulates the working hours and the maximum number of customers that can shop in grocery stores. On March 23, 2020, the Turkish Competition Authority (“TCA“) also issued a public release regarding the opportunistic behaviors of players in the food sector, stating that it is monitoring the sector closely.
Measures under the Circular
The Ministry took extensive measures to limit the spread of COVID-19 in grocery stores, emphasizing the risk factor of areas and places where a large amount of people assemble. Accordingly, all grocery stores in all of the provinces and districts in Turkey will be open between 9 am – 9 pm.
The maximum number of customers in a grocery store cannot exceed 10% of the size of the area. For instance, if a grocery store is 100 square meters, only 10 customers will be able to shop at the same time.
All grocery stores must hang banners at the grocery stores’ entrance indicating the maximum number of customers that can shop at the same time and that customers must keep a distance of one-meter between one other. Grocery stores must take the necessary measures to comply with these restrictions; for instance, grocery stores cannot allow additional customers to enter the premises if the maximum number of customers are already present in the store, and grocery store workers will inform the customers waiting outside that they must keep a one-meter distance between them.
The Ministry’s announcement on the Circular is available here (in Turkish).
The Turkish Competition Authority announced its close monitoring of the food sector
The TCA issued a public release announcing that several players in the food sector adopted an opportunist approach after the global COVID-19 outbreak. The TCA is observing that these players are excessively increasing their pricing, particularly the players active in the fresh fruit and vegetables market. The TCA highlighted that it is authorized to protect consumer welfare and prevent actions that harm efficient competition in the markets. The TCA also stated that it closely monitors price increases and the actors that play a role in these increases.
In this context, the TCA explicitly warned the food sector players, particularly those active in fresh fruit and vegetables market, that they will impose the heaviest administrative monetary sanctions set forth under the competition law on players (any player, including producer, dealer, carrier, final seller, etc.) conducting anti-competitive conducts.
The TCA’s announcement is available here (in Turkish).
This announcement is unsurprising considering the TCA’s interest in the food sector in recent years: the TCA previously conducted preliminary investigations in the fresh fruit and vegetables market, particularly the potato and onion sectors. Although the TCA’s announcement focused only on the food sector, it is clear that other sectors that directly affect consumers will also be on the TCA’s radar during the global outbreak.
Turkey continues to take measures against the COVID-19 pandemic. All retail companies running grocery stores must implement the Ministry’s measures and closely follow the announcement of relevant institutions and organizations regarding the -19 pandemic. Given the TCA’s strict scrutiny of the food sector, market players, especially those active in the fresh fruit and vegetables market, must not engage in any opportunistic practices in the form of restrictive agreements.