(June 9) Two of the nation’s leading supermarket chains are in the crosshairs of Securities and Exchange Commission inquiries into their vendor allowance practices.

A retail observer says the inquiries are part of federal regulators’ increased scrutiny into corporate activity.

The Kroger Co., Cincinnati, announced June 4 that it had responded to an SEC information request.

Albertsons Inc., Boise, Idaho, acknowledged it had received an SEC inquiry letter, according to a June 4 report in The Wall Street Journal.

Kroger complied with the SEC’s request for a review of Kroger’s financial forms from the second and third quarters of fiscal 2002, and the SEC required no changes to its reports, a Kroger spokesman said in a news release.

The SEC wanted Kroger to explain how it handled allowances received by vendors.

In a Dow Jones Business News report, a Kroger spokesman said the vendor allowances issue was only a part of what the SEC wanted to see.

In a report on an SEC investigation into IBM, The Wall Street Journal listed Albertsons among other retailers such as BJ’s Wholesale Club Inc., pharmacy CVS Corp., and office supplier Staples Inc., as receiving SEC inquiries. The report stated that the retailers described the reviews as requests for how they handled vendor allowances.

Ed Odron, president of Produce Marketing Consultants, a Stockton, Calif.-based retail-consulting firm, said such corporate examination will only increase.

“Everyone is under scrutiny since the Ahold situation and Enron,” he said. “Everything is being looked at very closely.”

Odron said he expects that companies such as Albertsons, Safeway, Kroger and Wal-Mart will come under regulators’ scrutiny within three to four years.

“The large corporations are scrambling to make sure their accounting practices are in line so items aren’t being misrepresented so stocks can go up or down,” he said.

On the other hand, Odron said, most corporate leaders will view the development in a positive light.

“The companies want a clean slate,” he said. “Once they come through, they can report everything is being followed correctly.”

Telephone calls to Kroger and Albertsons were not returned.

The developments follow SEC investigations into broadliner Fleming Cos. Inc., Lewisville, Texas, retail food wholesaler Nash-Finch Co., Minneapolis, and a massive bookkeeping scandal involving Dutch retail giant Royal Ahold NV.