Captain Vigilante

NOBBLED. Timing is everything – and it’s working in favour of the giant multiples. Just as they come under intense scrutiny by the Competition Commission, food prices are soaring and this scares governments. Especially those already heading for the rocks.

So when lawyer and bureaucrat chairman of the CC, Peter Freeman, found so little wrong with the Big Four in his initial report after his probe, some people put two and two together and made four.

Was the chairman subconsciously in receipt of signals carried in the political ether which discouraged him from curbing the power of the mighty?

Did he have nightmares in which the giant fist of Number 10 figuratively warned him off any action – such as open price lists – which could add to the costs of the Big Four and push prices up further?

CONSPIRACY. We are seeing real and nasty inflation with increases in grocery prices which the electorate will blame on New (?) Labour. The media and the City agree on this.

Will dearer food, which will hurt the working and lower middle classes (they’re still there) who form the vast millions of regular Big Four shoppers, be Gordon Brown’s Iraq?

Are circumstances conspiring to ensure that the CC will let the giants off the hook when, next year, it finally announces the shape of the marketplace of the future?

GOODWILL. How will Peter Freeman spend Christmas? Can you imagine him arriving home on Christmas Eve, briefcase bulging with the mass of angry responses to the CC’s initial thinking sent in by everyone ranging from Disgusted, Tunbridge Wells, to Frustrated, Budleigh Salterton.

As the bells from the nearby spire ring out the festive message, will he dwell on the fact that the only people who share the CC’s belief that all is well in the grocery market are the Big Four – the very people whose aggressive and arrogant non-festive behaviour triggered the CC inquiry in the first place.

Tesco might be fretting about a possible divestment but inside track sources suggest that the appointment of an ombudsman or Offshop regulator will be shrugged off by the mults.

WORDSWORTH. The CC chairman will have lots of holiday reading. Millions of words have been written and tomes completed.

The CC got two fundamentals wrong. It found big differentials in cost prices for groceries achieved by wholesalers and the Big Four but, disconcertingly, did not establish these as harmful to the small fry. Second, the CC obstinately and wilfully refused to recognise the real recent decline in the number of small shops.

On these two failures the CC is shaping our children’s future shopping experience in the form of a nightmare dominated by powerful, faceless and manipulative corporate gnomes.

Or, we live in hope; Peter Freeman will have a Christmas conversion on the road to justice and admit next year that he’d got it all wrong in October 07.

DENNY. The name cropped up in The Grocer letters, with Steve, former Landmark ceo, saying that in 38 years of reading the mag, he could not remember gasping out loud and using an expletive. Admirable restraint.

But he had done so at the outrageous quoting, by non other than PF who must by now have apologised, of the success of our most distinguished wholesaler as a gauge of the health of wholesaling.

This is a highly selective act of memory.

It’s conceivable that in 38 years of reading The Grocer, Steve had never been emotionally moved, but he will surely admit that in the context of another trade publication (of which Vigilante had intimate acquaintance) the odd expletive occasionally emerged to be propelled in the direction of the ducking editor?

PLASTIC. New readers begin here.

This column has recorded the way in which the FWD PR Action Group, or PRAG, has chewed the cud over the need for a cheap generic re-usable shopping bag for independent retailers.

By clubbing together under the MSYS banner, a generic bag-for-life would be provided at least cost. The latest on this is that PRAG has asked for a specification in cotton with the “I am an independent person” slogan on it and this is on its way.

London will ban free plastic bags. Shoppers overwhelmingly support the ban and want re-usable carriers. M S will charge 5p per plastic bag from February. Gordon Brown wants a ban on plastic bags free or not.

It will happen.

May Stocks, an FWD Gold Medal MSYS Retailer of the Year finalist, can’t wait. She makes her own bags-for-life for customers at her shop in Hepstonstall, Hebden Bridge.

FIRST. ‘Tis said that other buying groups, cash and carry and delivered, will follow the lead of Nisa-Today’s in appointing “outside” independent directors.

Ian Black, ex PWC and KPMG, and Mark Pullen, ex finance director of Geest, join the Nisa-Today’s holdings board, reporting to chairman Raj Chatha. They are the right stuff.

BREACH. Why oh why does the OFT recoil from a proposal for a law which bans below cost selling which would prevent the Big Four from manipulating the consumer with massive price cuts (which are compensated for by adjusted prices on other products)?

Some of the pre-Christmas offers now in the giant retailers are below cost – suppliers are openly saying so.

The Germans, who could provide our next England soccer manager, have no difficulty with their legal ban on selling below cost.

Netto is up before the Hamburg beak for allegedly selling dairy products “repeatedly” at up to 40% below cost whereas the law only allow this behaviour “occasionally”.

PLOD. One of the most creative and significant marketing activities ever undertaken in the independent off licence sector is now on-going.

PLOD, or Putting Leaders On Display, has been initiated and developed by the FWD Take Home Blueprint. It will bring new higher levels of sales of spirits to local shops without the need to slash prices for binge drinkers a la the mults.

By removing spirits from the glass coffin behind the counter and placing them on shelf near the till bearing a removable security cap, FWD with PLOD at last brings independents’ spirits merchandising into the 21st century.

FWD continues its unique tradition of fighting for wholesalers and genuinely and practically (spin not allowed) guiding their retailer customers.

A happy note on which to bid you all the seasonal best.

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