I read yesterday that Asda, the British outpost of the Wal-Mart empire, is pretty unhappy about unfair planning laws that stop it from erecting great big warehouses full of discounted food and drinks and so-called "designer" clothing in every empty space in the UK. As a result, they have sent representatives to see the Deputy Prime Minister, they have been to Number 10 and to the Treasury to ask them if they would be so kind as to remove this restriction to their ability to make a lot more money. The thing is that all the good spots have been taken by branches of Tesco, and Asda/Wal-mart find this terribly unfair. They want a bigger slice of the retail pie, and Tesco has been eating into Asda's pudding of late.
Now I feel terrible for those poor Wal-mart shareholders, and I have no particular love for Tesco. However mostly I feel nothing but a deep loathing for the big supermarket chains. The supermarkets are responsible for the biggest orchestrated, legal rip-off of anyone who has anything to do with food for the past few decades. And since everyone is intimately involved in food, that's all of us. Asda and Tesco make much of their low prices in all their advertising and marketing, but this is just smoke and mirrors. Because for every 99p pack of economy sausages (and no-one in their right mind should contemplate eating such a thing anyway) that a customer buys, they will also buy two frozen pizzas on special offer for a tenner that they hadn't planned to buy, and the in-house magazine (why? Why on earth would anyone want a supermarket's magazine?). Then they'll make a series of other impulse purchases, and return home having spent a lot of money on items that they didn't really need or want, too much fresh food that they will end up throwing away, and instead will eat the miserable frozen pizza. Every Day Low Prices, my mustelid bottom!
Their other great mantra is telling consumers about choice. Rather like our political masters in fact. However this is also a great big lie. When Tesco and Asda receive planning permission to open a hypermarket on the outskirts of a town, they inevitably kill off the local competition. The construction of an out of town supermarket is retail napalm for the local area. And fewer shops mean a more restricted choice for consumers. Supermarkets inevitably mean that consumers are faced with a homogenised, standardised food offering. I hope that the people from Asda are sent packing. However they'll probably present John Prescott with a report all about offering consumers more choice, with a forward by Digby Jones (N.B.: I haven't written about Digby yet but his time will come. Supermarkets are quite simply expensive and rubbish. If you can possibly avoid it (and you can, just use the local market instead), don't buy any food from them.
PS: While one section of the machinery of state is engaged in discussions to help Asda to rip us all off some more, Defra, formerly the Ministry of Rural Cleansing, has just produced a report snappily titled The Validity of Food Miles as an Indicator of Sustainable Development. This is actually quite interesting reading on a related topic. Another reason not to buy food from the damned supermarkets.