Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Supermarket Sweep


When I left school I worked in a grocery store. I stood behind a counter where I sliced bacon, cut cheese and handed out cans of beans. Next door was a butcher and a few shops up, a baker. It was a typical high street like the ones found in every town on England. And in the early hours of the morning the milkman glided silently around on his electric float dropping bottles of fresh milk on doorsteps in time for breakfast.
Then suddenly a supermarket landed like an alien ship from outer space. Bright lights, shiny walkways, shopping trolleys and mountains of tins packets and boxes. My manager wore a white coat and a funny little cap. Here the manager strutted around in all booted and suited like a conductor leading an orchestra.
Gradually shops like mine and the butchers and the bakers were forced out of business. The milkmen all but disappeared. A few self- service convenience stores rose from the ruins, but the mighty supermarket had pretty well taken over completely. They built out-of-town warehouses which drew people away from the high streets and into retail parks.
Today the market is dominated by four major companies. The second largest, Asda is now American owned and run by Wal-Mart. The biggest by a country mile however is Tesco.
Having effectively shut down the high streets, the major players are opening up small neighbourhood stores in the places were shops like mine used to trade.
Tesco now claims a staggering 8 pence from every pound spent by English households. That’s total spending, not just food. Tesco now have an unassailable 30% share of the total food market. With on-line shopping you don’t even need to move your car - it comes to you.As if they are not satisfied, they now sell every thing you could possibly need from televisions to computers. I bought this very computer from Tesco because it was the best deal around!
Overseas they are also leaving their mark. On the Thai island paradise of Phuket they have built an enormous hanger of a store. The increase in the amount of waste on the island due to Tesco packaging has increase to an amount that can simply not be handled.
Eastbourne is a medium size town of some 22,000 souls. It boasts one Tesco Hypermarket, one Tesco Superstore and six Tesco convenience stores. There’s also a Sainsbury superstore, an Asda Hypermarket and a Waitrose. And they’re all busy.
The small market town of Hailsham where I started out is about to be invaded by a massive Tesco. It has a large catchment area with dozens of villages and farming communities in every direction. This time they are building in the town centre rather than outside. To make space for their store they’ve bought all the buildings in an entire street including a school which they are to re-build in another part of town.
Hours of radio and TV coverage is given to Tesco’s gradual take over of the retail sector. Radio phone-ins are given over to angry callers telling us how disgraceful this situation is. The business sections of our papers warn us of the dreadful effects of Tesco’s unstoppable march. The English people are up in arms about it!
But hang on a minute - if nobody wants Tesco, why do we all go there?
As they say in Yorkshire - nowt strange as folk!

1 comment:

  1. It sounds like your area's Tesco is America's version of Cosco. Perhaps they are of the same chain. We also have Sam's Club, which is owned by Wal-Mart. There is another, but I can't recall the name.

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