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?