RAC Foundation News - May 2019

This week official figures show that both petrol and diesel prices are at six-month highs, averaging £1.28 a litre for the former and £1.35 a litre for the latter across the UK.

It is often the big four supermarkets – Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Asda and Morrisons – which sell the cheapest fuel (with Asda making a point of usually being cheapest of all) relying on their huge buying power and the ability to cross-subsidise prices from their much greater in-store activity to do so.

Though they operate only 1,562 (19%) of the UK’s 8,394 filling stations the supermarkets are usually to be found in key locations. New analysis by the RAC Foundation shows that 78% of UK car-owning households are now located within three miles (as the crow flies) of a supermarket forecourt. At five miles that proportion increases to 88% and at 10 miles it jumps to 97%.

Given these proximity figures and the relatively-competitive prices it is no wonder then that supermarkets sell, by volume, 45% of all petrol and diesel. Perhaps no wonder either that the Competition and Markets Authority blocked the proposed merger of Sainsbury’s and Asda in large part because of concerns over the possible harmful effects on both fuel availability and price had the deal gone through.

As the supermarkets have come to dominate the retail fuel market so the proportion of independents has shrunk with the Petrol Retailers’ Association (PRA) estimating that 70% of sites that were open in 2000 have since closed leaving around 5,492 open today.

(The balance of the current total of 8,394 forecourts in the UK is made up of sites operated by oil companies.)

Ironically the PRA estimates that as supermarkets have gained a larger slice of the petrol and diesel market, more and more independent fuel retailers are becoming the new corner shop relying on their store income to keep them afloat.

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