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Supermarket v local trader

Gerald Ingolby looks at high street shopping trends

Yesterday our godson and his mother came for lunch. My wife and I did our regular shop at M & S. We were attracted to the weekend deal of a main, side and dessert and bottle of wine for £10. After lunch, our godson’s mother complimented us fulsomely on the roast chicken, garlic  mushrooms included in the deal.

In my lifetime the two great developments in shopping have been the rise of the supermarket and the Internet.

After Uni in the early 80s, I lived in Parsons Green with a flat mate. There was was no local supermarket and shopping was by visit to a specialist trader. It still is in France. In Tours, for example, the excellence of the covered market is preserved by the refusal to allow only minii markets in the centre. Marylebone High Street, one of the most popular and elegant shopping streets in central London, still has such specialists like La Fromagerie for cheese or the Ginger Pig for meat. Their higher prices do not seem to affect their business, nor the proximity of Waitrose. I have stopped going to the farmer market on a Sunday as it’s disorganised and ridiculously expensive

My biggest beef with supermarket food is its homogeneity. The moment you have one popular dish in M & S you like, you know it will be replicated in Waitrose. Others may say that forcing out the local shop has harmed the community feel of the area, but I find this hypocritical as, if it was used enough, it would still be there. I stayed with a friend near Penzance at St Bunyan and the local shop did a thriving business. The bigger stores also offer the advantages of home delivery and shopping online. Unless the Internet totally replaces them they are here to stay.

A  few years ago I had a fascinating conversation with a friend who runs a successful pasta sauce company. As a supplier to Waitrose, he was on the receiving end of tough costing. Sir Philip Green is said to be the toughest with his suppliers in keeping costs down. At the time Tesco were ruling the high street, but he said in times of superiority there are also always signs of decline. He felt their customers would check ingredients more carefully, e.g. salt and meat content, and it is true that Tesco, whilst still the most significant player, seems to have less of a grip than before.

About Gerald Ingolby

Formerly a consumer journalist on radio and television, in 2002 Gerald published a thriller novel featuring a campaigning editor who was wrongly accused and jailed for fraud. He now runs a website devoted to consumer news. More Posts