Thursday, January 06, 2011

Supermarkets relentless growth

Excellent letter in todays Post from Gil Osman, copied below.

ACCORDING to recent BBC research, the big four supermarkets (Tesco, Sainsbury's, Asda and Morrisons) are expanding at an alarming rate.

In the last two years, planning authorities have granted permission for at least 480 new supermarket stores in England. It is argued that this will give more choice to local shoppers – but will it? Unfortunately, many councils are persuaded to give planning permission, because of the financial benefit to themselves. Often an agreement is made, whereby the store has to build a community resource, or provide funds for such a venture, in order to gain planning permission to build a store. Thus the council does not have to pay for such facilities. In this age of recession councils will be even more tempted.

Supermarkets can attract many shoppers with the lure of lower prices (and even more so in a recession). Local traders cannot compete with such huge organisations, which buy in vast bulk at cheap prices. Therefore it leads to forced closure, which, in turn, leads to less choice and variety in an area. The independent High Street shop has been a feature of villages, towns and cities for generations and helps to form the character of an area. Napoleon called us a nation of shopkeepers, in a derogatory way, but, surely, the small trader is a tribute to British enterprise and individuality.

The closure of any small shop leaves our High Streets depleted and, eventually, leads to a loss of identity. 12,000 independent shops went out of business last year.

In their search for ever more cheaper products, the Big Four seem to have scant regard for many concerns.

The farmer who cannot afford to accept the wholesale price offered by the supermarket goes out of business. Question marks hang over the sources of some of the clothing offered so cheaply by the Big Four

And what of quality? Cheapness and quantity triumph here. Mass-produced food, using vast quantities of chemical fertilisers and pesticides is often tasteless when compared to organic produce, or that produced by the local allotment-holder. The effects of imbibing the residues of these chemicals have yet to be seen. And standardisation has reduced variety (take apples and potatoes, for example).

And what of animal welfare? The generality of people have demonstrated their abhorrence of intensive farming methods with their boycott of the battery-produced egg (at least Sainsbury's has banned these).

Yet, I do not doubt that the Big Four will buy milk from the huge factory dairy being proposed in Leicestershire – if it gets planning permission. Like battery chickens, these cows will spend their whole lives inside huge sheds, never placing their feet on a green field. The entrepreneur behind this enterprise has the effrontery to state on television that cows don't belong in fields anymore! It's like a Victorian factory-owner stating: 'Workers (i.e. men, women and children) don't belong in villages anymore!' And, of course, the small dairy farmer will not be able to compete and will go out of business.

Tesco made £3.4 billion profit last year. It cannot possibly make such a profit on its cheaper ranges, which suggests its customers are paying over the odds on other items. But, once in a supermarket, most people will buy everything there. After all, it's so convenient!!!

Gil Osman

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