The watchdog has initiated the investigation – the first phase of which is scheduled to last until 24 April 2017 – to decide whether the proposed acquisition, a joint bid between Heineken and investment firm Patron Capital, could reduce competition and consumer choice.
If this is found to be the case, the CMA will launch a longer merger investigation that could see the process last until October unless merging parties offer undertakings to address competition concerns.
A spokesman for Heineken said: "This morning's announcement confirms an important and fully expected stage in the process to finalise our acquisition of the Securitisation A pubs from Punch, and Heineken will be fully co-operating with the CMA."
The CMA has called for interested parties and individuals to submit their views to firstname.lastname@example.org by 2 March at the latest.
The proposed deal, which will see Heineken become the third largest pub operator in the UK (behind Greene King and Enterprise) has faced considerable scrutiny from within the sector.
Earlier this month, Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) chairman Colin Valentine wrote an open letter to Lawson Mountstevens, managing director of Heineken's pub arm, Star Pubs & Bars, voicing concern that the deal could lead to reduced competition and calling for reassurance that tenants would have the right to opt for a market-rent-only (MRO) option under the pubs code and to offer guest real ales from other breweries.
Paul Waterson, chief executive of the Scottish Licensed Trade Association, which has staunchly opposed the deal, said: “We are delighted that the CMA has chosen to listen to the concerns voiced by so many businesses, organisations and individuals within the pub and brewing industry and open an investigation into Heineken’s takeover bid for Punch Taverns."
He expressed concern that Heineken would give preference to their own products across the estate, which would not be fair for other brewers, licensees or consumers.
Heineken has moved to assure Punch tenants that no plans were under way to force them to buy and sell solely Heineken products.
The CMA investigation involves only Heineken and not Patron Capital because Patron does not currently operate any pubs.