This week Justin King, Chief Exec of the Sainsbury group, called for a check on the dominance of Tescoâ??s in the UK Supermarket market. (â??More Hereâ??) His claims, which seemed to some to be a case of sour overpriced organic grapes, lay around the power Tesco weilds as market leader when it comes to developing new sites, to the exclusion of Sainsburies and Adsa et al. Of course Tesco rebutted these allegations, claiming â??mostâ?? British consumers had access to at least two or three supermarkets therefore Tescoâ??s position as number 1 was a result of the consumers â??free choiceâ?? and not something they would ever take for granted. The issue of choice is an interesting one here in that choice only really exists from a very small range of possible options – the big companies having run local independant traders out of town a long time ago, and the factors determining that choice being a tightly controlled combination of value for money, cost and â??perceived qualityâ??. We are now all aware that supermarkets run to their own internal logic which results in some appaling products reaching our shelves, produced via intensive farming methods which are bad for the environment, and probably bad for us. The emphasis placed on superficial appearance at the expense of nutritional value is worrying. But that internal logic which specialises in making something from nothing can even make money from this, producing nicely (and wastefully) packaged â??Qualityâ?? ranges – the leverage leading consumers to chose these premium products being the shoddy quality of the rest of their ranges.
An interesting gap currently exists for a â??goodâ?? alternative to the supermarket. This means more than producing heavily packaged â??organicâ?? potatoes (40% of the crop being rejected because theyâ??re not round enough), or putting a miniscule fraction of your massive profits back into â??community causesâ??. It would mean redesigning the way a supermarket works, creating value for the consumer in something resource-light and sustainable, and eschewing the current logic of the market which results in broiler house chickens spending their steroid fuelled short lives sitting about in their own excrement. The supermarkets can argue all day about whether theyâ??re benignly just giving consumers what they want or whether those â??wantsâ?? are created in a system that has reduced the possible choices in such a way to create a demand for what theyâ??re offering. Sainsburies and Tescoâ??s can scrap about whether one has better access to new developments than the other but the fact is if youâ??re going to play in that particular market youâ??ll sooner or later get dragged into working by itâ??s own rules. The only route out seems to be to create a different market with different needs and different products and services, which can play by a different (better) set of rules.