What’s Wrong With Supermarkets?

Supermarkets claim that when they come to town they bring choice, cheap food, development and jobs. But as many communities know only too well, the reality is very different.

  • Supermarkets erode local choice as smaller, independent shops struggle to compete. Between 1997 and 2002 more than 13,000 specialist stores around the UK closed. Now the small independents’ share of the grocery market is just 6 per cent. A report from Manchester Metropolitan University suggests that at the current rate of demise, there will be no independent retailers left by 2050, and a report by the Alliance Party Parliamentary Small Shops Group predicts that many will have ceased trading by 2015. A report by the Competition Commission found that the loss of local, independent shops can have serious impacts in terms of access to food, particularly for people on lower incomes or those who don’t have a car.
  • Supermarkets siphon money away from local communities and towards shareholders and distant corporations. A study by NEF (the New Economics Foundation) found that £1 spent in a local shop selling local produce puts twice as much money back into the local community as £1 spent in a supermarket. An analysis of procurement spending conducted by Northumberland County Council with NEF has shown that£1 spent with local suppliers is worth £1.76 to the local economy, while £1 spent with suppliers out of the area is worth 36 pence. A Friends of the Earth study of local food schemes found that on average just over half of business turnover was returned to the local economy, compared to as little as 5 per cent for supermarkets.
  • Supermarkets increase traffic and congestion. The distribution systems used by supermarkets and their large catchment area generates large amounts of traffic. Recent work for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) suggests that car use for shopping results in costs to society of more than £3.5 billion per year, from traffic emissions, noise, congestion and accidents.
  • Supermarkets destroy local jobs. Supermarkets claims that new stores bring in jobs fails to consider the wider picture of independent retailer bankruptcies. A 1998 study by the National Retailer Planning Forum (NRPF) examining the employment impacts of 93 superstore openings between 1991 and 1994 found that they resulted in a net loss of more than 25,000 jobs or 276 per store opened.
  • Supermarkets are often more expensive. Supermarkets entice customers into their stores with basic goods like milk and bread sold at below cost prices. Once inside customers often end up spending more on the rest of their groceries than they would at smaller, independent stores. Moreover, promotions such as 2 for 1 encourage customers to buy more than they need. It’s not surprising that a third of all food in the UK is thrown away.
  • Supermarkets generate waste and over-package. Packaging now makes up nearly a quarter of household waste, and 35-40% of household waste ending up in landfill begins as a purchase from one of the big five supermarkets.
  • Supermarkets exploit suppliers and damage the environment. Supermarkets use their market dominance to exploit suppliers and farmers and drive down prices, sometimes below the cost of production, thus ensuring that environmentally damaging practices are continued both in the UK and overseas.

Of course supermarkets are here to stay but surely a balance can be struck. Stirchley already has one supermarket. Does it really need another?

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3 Responses to “What’s Wrong With Supermarkets?”

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Not all supermarkets exploit suppliers. The existing supermarket in Stirchley, Midlands Co-op, has a very good track record in regard to ethical product sourcing and fairly-traded supply agreements that ensure the producers receive a fair payment for goods.

Tesco may pay lip service to supporting a handful of Fair Trade products (band wagon jumping springs to mind), but their reputation for screwing most of their suppliers into the ground to get the best cost price is miles away from how the existing supermarket, i.e. The Co-op, does its business.

Co-op customers can sleep a lot better at night knowing that they haven’t fleeced the producers of the developing world to acquire a cheap range. There’s always a cost to bad practice, simply put we don’t want Tesco as they’re the worst violator in regard to non-ethical behaviour.

You might pay a little less with Tesco, but the impact is that you’re supporting a morally bankrupt financial giant which is never a good trade-off for those of us who put the needs of the many before the need of the individual.

I think the very fact TESCO wants to open up
opposite an existing Supermarket speaks
volumes. It is never about giving the
customer a service, it is about driving
other shops out of business.

Personally, I’m sick to the back teeth of seeing cities being turned into Tescoville. If they’re not opening up whacking great big stores, they’re taking over former petrol stations (as they have on the London Road in Worcester) or shoving in Tesco Direct stores in every nook and cranny they can get their mitts on.

Stirchley needs its own sense of identity – and a new Tesco’s won’t fulfil this. I’d rather see a central focus for Stirchley – a village square (I know, that then raises the question of where to put it!), or something that makes the current drive through culture stop and interact with the ‘burb. At the moment, there’s little other than takeaways or hardware stores on the Pershore Road – it isn’t offering anything unique and parking’s a nightmare so it’s no surprise that it’s got stuck in such a miserable rut. Give Stirchley a heart, not a mart!


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    Another Stirchley Is Possible is an action group set up by concerned local residents to oppose the planned Tesco retail development and to campaign for a better alternative

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