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Our Journal

Supermarkets vs small Zero-waste retailers

This is a big one.

We all want people to reduce their plastic use and reduce their food waste, don’t we? Along with running a family business and providing a community service, these are the reasons we got into this.  So, if the major supermarket retailers change their ways and move to ‘fill your own’ because we’ve become a significant thorn in their sides, that’s got to be a good thing, right?

I’m torn! Surely yes but, consider their motives. It should mean that plastic use goes down and food waste is reduced – great, that’s a win! But, a supermarket chain’s business model is predicated on one thing: maximising shareholder value. They don’t want to lose customers they already have and do want to win them from their competitors. If they find themselves losing customers or customers’ wallet share, then that risks their primary objective and they are going to fight to get them back.  This means, as our movement grows, supermarkets will definitely offer ‘fill your own’. And, of course, they will be able to offer it at a lower price point than individual shops can. But, this is where their main objective kicks in. They will continuously be pulled back to packaged volume sales, because it’s cheaper for them: Fill your own means more spills to clean up, which costs more; Fill your own means more training for staff and more staff to serve customers, which costs more; Fill your own means more stock lines, because they still have to provide the packaged goods and that means more shelf space, which costs more. One of the major reasons supermarkets came into being in the first place, was to get away from the very things we offer and many customers actually want. They will not be able to continue to be pulled in opposite directions.

This is why the other things we offer are so important – good service, community, local-sourcing, friendliness and our value-add services will keep customers coming back to our shops. They will keep us going while the big chains go through the cycle of experimenting with and then abandoning services which fly in the face of their ‘maximising shareholder value’ mission.

A while ago I read these words, written by someone many of us know.

“I am not sure whether to respond with pride or irritation to Tesco and Sainsbury’s synchronous announcements last week that both will be starting organic veg box schemes this autumn”.

These words were written by Guy Singh Watson of Riverford back on 11th August 2006. When was the last time you spoke to anyone who had an organic vegetable box delivered by Tesco?