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MINISTERS yesterday banned ice cream makers from striking exclusive deals with sellers - but not at the Millennium Dome.

Trade Secretary Stephen Byers also barred Birds Eye Wall's, which has 70 per cent of the pounds 400million-a-year market, from giving stores free freezers in return for selling only its products.

Mr Byers said the moves, which follow a Competition Commission inquiry, would end restrictive practices by the big three manufacturers - Walls's, Nestle and Mars - and give consumers more choice in the so-called "impulse buy" market.

Wall's, whose big sellers include Magnum and Cornetto, said it was bitterly disappointed.

It said: "Independent market research shows that consumers and retailers are very happy with the choice and availability of impulse-buy ice cream."

The ban covers only new agreements - existing deals will be allowed to run their course.

So visitors to the Dome won't have any choice.

They can only buy Wall's products after the firm paid pounds 3million for exclusive ice cream sale rights.

One retail analyst said yesterday: "Many people will agree it's right to smash the stranglehold the big manufacturers have on the market.

"But how can you have one rule for the corner shop and another for the Dome?"

Money was more on the minds of Dome bosses yesterday as they were promised a quick-fix cash boost to bail out the flagship tourist attraction. Cabinet Office Minister Lord Falconer said the short-term loan - possibly as much as pounds 60million - would ensure the project breaks even.

He claimed: "The hugely positive reaction of the many people who have visited the Dome so far indicates that it is set to be a great popular success."

But ministers have made little secret of their disappointment at poor visitor numbers since the New Year and the lack of advance bookings.

To break even the Dome needs 12 million visitors by the end of the year - an average 33,000 a day.

Yesterday there were no more than 10,000 inside.

Downing Street stressed the extra cash would be a loan and not a grant.
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Author:Harrison, Tracey
Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Jan 29, 2000
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