Scanning the Web this morning, I see that a United Kingdom blogger has gone after supermarkets there for budget friendly holiday pricing tactics. If the truth be told, the opinion piece scorns their very existence and yearns for a purer time in Christmas commerce.

Alex Renton, a contributor to the Guardian’s Word of Mouth blog, rants:

The supermarkets are the Scrooges of our time: mean, hypocritical, deceiving. However they dress it up, Sainsbury's and Tesco's Christmas specials are not acts of seasonal generosity (it may surprise you to learn): they are steely-clawed grabs at market share. The £6 "essential turkey" is not a top-hatted gent's kindness to the nation's Bob Cratchits - it's a marketing strategists' suicide bomb, cruel to the turkey, disastrous for Britain's battered farmers and not great for the environment.

Renton’s solution? 

There is an answer. Go off-grid this season and choose a retro (circa 1960) Christmas, from before the rise of the supermarkets. Cater without them, and spread goodwill - and your cash - round local producers and traditional shops. It takes a bit more time and planning and of course a High Moral Purpose.



Well, that’s the sort of smug commentary we have come to expect from a certain fringe of the foodie movement. What was surprising to me were the reader comments that seemed to be largely supportive of the columnist:

One reader writes:

Even if you can't source everything through a rosy cheeked local purveyor, it's surely worth the effort to do as much as you can and only resort to the likes of Tesco if absolutely necessary.

Another chimes in:


So Baby Jesus says - Don't shop at supermarkets for my birthday?
I think that's spot on. There's a load of good ethical reasons to spurn them - and Alex touches on some of them. But I'd put jobs first - especially now. Supermarkets close independent shops, tens of thousands of them this decade. And independents employ more people, and keep your money in the community. Say yes to tradition and no to the capitalist Christmas.


Another opines:

I stopped buying fruit, veg and meat from any supermarket three years ago. Everything is superior and not a lot more expensive.
I will not use Tescos even to go for a pee. They disgust me, but they are all much of a muchness, I suppose.
Due to my wife being disabled I do all the shopping and while I hate the task, I have a feeling of superiority when I deny any of the supermarkets my money.

I already have all I need for the Christmas fare.

One seasoned citizen counters with a more balanced response
:

You really have no idea, have you? 1960's Christmas means going to an organic shop? What utter rubbish. Let me enlighten you.
Turkey (14 lb hen) from Birmingham Food Market.

Veg (potatoes, sprouts, etc) from Birmingham Bull Ring Market (in the days before they built the concrete monstrosity that was the Bull Ring). Christmas pudding was a made pudding, bought from the little supermarket in Langley Green (yes they did exist in the 1960s). The brandy came from the local off licence at the corner of the street.

Then they had to go shopping again on Boxing Day because they had no fridge, so it was off down to the greengrocers. (what's a greengrocer I hear you say?) The turkey was kept in the pantry and eaten at every meal (and in between meals) so it didn't go off.

If you want to be really supportive of local producers and sellers, go to your local market. I don't mean one of those poncey farmers markets either: they're a rip off (£2 for one small cauliflower? Don't make me larf). If you go at about 3pm you will get better bargains as the stallholders reduce their prices - if money is as short for you as it is for me, that is.



It’s hard for me to relate the discussion about UK supermarkets being the epitome of evil, but I sense there is a longing for the High Street of old in British retailing, the specialized corner store food shops that offer homey over-the-counter interaction. Yet for as many of these bloggers and readers who say they disdain the modern supermarket, it must take many more for the four supermarket chains to grab 75% of the retail food market in the UK.

Here are a couple of helpful links about British retailing if you are so inclined:

USDA FAS UK Supermarket Chain Profiles

USDA FAS UK Retail Food Sector

From that report:

Four large supermarket chains dominate UK food retailing, and together they account for 75 percent of the market. Tesco is the market leader, by a sizeable margin. Tesco has 30.9 percent market share, followed by Asda/Wal-Mart (17.2 percent), Sainsbury’s (15.7 percent) and Morrison’s (11.5 percent). In the last year, the Cooperative purchased Somerfield.

Also check out Tesco’s latest results from the Wall Street Journal:

From that story, a tidbit about Fresh & Easy:

In the U.S., where its Fresh & Easy chain of stores has been exposed to the brunt of the property slump and recessionary fallout, Tesco said sales rose 37.4%, while sales from stores open more than a year were stronger after the company improved its range of products and launched a marketing campaign.
Tesco said the business is performing in line with expectations and the outlook for the year remains unchanged.