How much Tescofication are you willing to take?
Go on, you know you’re feeling guilty. Every time you go under the strip lighting there’s a tug on your moral conscience. You’re screwing with African farmers, filling the ozone layer with food miles and making small businesses go bust.
And yet you can’t stop yourself.
Don’t worry, neither can I. Our society’s changed so that convenience matters more to us than conscientiousness.
The supermarkets even bitch about each other. Sainsbury’s reckon their rivals Tesco will have 43% of the market by 2010, and that something should be done to stop them. They don’t mention the fact that, while smaller, they are as guilty as anyone else.
Only around 15% of the cost of a loaf of bread goes back to the farmer who grew the wheat. It’s about 30% for eggs and 40% for carrots. Few goods offer more than half of their store price to the producer.
Dairy farmers have been particularly badly hit. In 1995 they got around 59% of the retail price of milk. Today it’s just 35%. The supermarket’s share has risen from 3% to 30%. So it’s pretty clear who’s winning that battle1.
And there’s been a double-whammy for farmers. Because while most products have seen inflation of 48% since 1990, food prices have risen just 27%. It means farmers’ incomes have been plummeting in relation to everyone else’s.
So at what point do we stop praising the international success of a British business and start telling them to get their house in order? Do we expect them to start closing stores? Would a greater variety of supermarket owners make any difference to producers? Are we happy with the inevitable situation where there are only four or five food retailers in the UK?
I spoke to a greengrocer today who was annoyed not just with Tesco’s attitude to producers and small rivals, but with the people who accept it and only shop there. He works alone, in the cold, for ten hours a day, starting very early. He pours blood, sweat and tears into his job.
Is it about time Tesco and others started being put under the same pressure as him by consumers and government? Or are we happy with the convenient monopoly which makes life easy for the big supermarkets?
1. National Farmers’ Union figures