A Buckingham coffee shop owner is threatening to take Waitrose to the Office of Fair Trading over a free tea and coffee promotion.
Garry Sutherland, who owns Gelateria Gazzeria in Meadow Walk, says takeaway tea and coffee sales have nosedived since Waitrose started giving away free hot drinks to customers with a myWaitrose card.
Mr Sutherland, 60, set up the ice cream parlour and coffee shop three and a half years ago with his wife Maria, who makes the ice cream.
He told the Advertiser: “I don’t mind competing with anyone on a level playing field but free coffee is not a level playing field.
“Our walk in, walk out sales have declined dramatically. We have hardly anyone coming in for take-away coffee.
“I sat here one Saturday morning and I watched 25 people come out of Waitrose with cups of coffee. Of that 25, eight or 10 would normally come in here. That time, we had two for coffee.”
He claims the promotion amounts to unfair competition. “Where Waitrose have got their own internal cafe, you can’t make an issue of it,” he said. “But here it’s a loss leader, and a loss leader is aggressive marketing and that’s unfair trading competition.”
He also questioned how many other companies nationally are suffering as a result of the promotion.
Mr Sutherland complained to Waitrose managing director Mark Price weeks ago but the firm did not reply until yesterday, Thursday, after the Advertiser got in touch.
A spokesman said: “The myWaitrose card has been designed to help us compete against the major supermarket chains that are very much bigger than Waitrose.
“Instead of the standard loyalty card that typically gives one per cent discount, we’ve chosen to give our loyal customers coffee, newspapers and other offers that are immediate, relevant and appreciated. We endeavour to make a positive contribution to the Buckingham community in a number of ways. We give £1,000 a month to good causes through our Community Matters ‘green token’ scheme and the town also benefits from the 250 paid hours we give our Partners every year who wish to volunteer.
“I believe that overall both commercially and in terms of the wider community we have a positive effect on local life.”
Mr Sutherland said he was “not impressed” by the response, which he dismissed as “a load of corporate nonsense”.
He said: “I’m absolutely not satisfied and I’m taking them to the Office of Fair Trading.”