Captain Vigilante

TRICKS. Cynical market-watchers – a tribe which increases by the day as the Competition Commission (CC) report on the future of the Big Four is delayed – will have more to be cynical about after a new piece of Tesco sponsored research.

The supergiant funded a report by the University of Southampton which claimed that “corner shops” are enjoying growth – contradicting evidence of a demise in the fortunes of small retailers.

Tesco submitted the report to the CC just as its chairman, Peter Freeman, was writing yet another draft of his final judgement – timing which gave rise to more sharp intakes of breath by many militant wholesalers.

The Uni said previous market studies have not included outlets such as forecourt shops thus giving an inaccurate picture of decline. Pull the other one.

UNEASY. Have you noticed that in the company of foodies, or parents who overdose on hyper-childcare, feelings of guilt can arise about any association you may have with the food industry.

Why can’t the Food Standards Agency (FSA) just impose an outright ban on dodgy E additives, they ask. Hyperactivity in children is caused by E122, or carmoisine, in soft drinks and yogurt. E104, another trigger, also known as quinoline yellow, is banned worldwide except here.

Sheffield city lab tests say E221, used in colas, may be linked to Parkinsons. Then there’s the obesity issue. What do you say when friends or family ask? Change the subject, if you can.

PLEDGE. It’s difficult to avoid Sir Terry’s public relations output in the run-up to the aforementioned CC report. The latest headline is a pledge to improve the training standards of his 280,000 workers.

Too many children, he says, are leaving school after 11 or 13 years of education without the basic skills to get on in life and hold down a job.

Over 17 million children leave school and can’t add up properly (thank goodness for electronic tills…).

Sir Terry has promised to train staff to a standard equivalent to “five good GCSEs”. Sainsbury has actually agreed to have its training programme accredited by the GCSE exams regulator.

Remember Tony Blair’s promise on “education, education, education” – well what happened to that?

INSIDER. Sir Terry – did you know this – is a member of Gordon Brown’s Business Council for Britain (BCB) which advises the prime minister on how to make the country more “business-friendly”.

So if the CC eventually – don’t hold your breath – says that the Big Four are BAD and smaller shops are GOOD, will this be seen as business-friendly?

It will be good for small business but not very friendly to Sir Terry. So you can imagine that Sir Terry might be putting a call through to Downing Street to say that the CC has dealt a severe blow to the Prime Minister’s love affair with the moguls.

ETHICAL? It seems that every time Tesco scores with another claim to be green, a story to the opposite effect sees the light of day.

This one centres on Choose Love, the brand which markets organic and fairtrade clothing and which thought it had a deal with Tesco to get its products rolled out and promoted in-store.

But designer Katharine Hamnett says Tesco simply “wants to appear ethical rather than make a full commitment to the products” and had broken its promise to boost the brand’s presence. ‘Nuff said.

OVERPLAYED. Every wholesaler one meets is obsessed with the power of Tesco and it is difficult, in the wholesale industry’s leading publication, not to reflect this obsession.

Everyone’s favourite PR girl, Lucy Neville-Rolfe, we are told by insiders, overplayed her hand with the Business section of The Sunday Times (16/09/07) when the paper agreed to print her spirited defence of Tesco – just as yet another draft of the CC judgement was being written.

The headline “Britain must not demonise success, says Tesco boss” was based on a question and answer format.

Sir Terry, aka Lucy, was asked why “some people really hate Tesco”. The best answer to this bodyline ball is: “Some people hate Tesco. Many don’t.”

But Lucy jumped in with: “They don’t hate Tesco. Tesco is the most loved organisation in Britain.” Aaaaaaaaagh…

FIVER. There’s a fiver for your favourite charity if you can propose the name of the best loved organisation in Britain.

Is it the National Trust, RSPCA, NSPCC, British Legion, Age Concern, the Red Cross, Oxfam, Find Maddie or Children In Need? If it’s Tesco, what does it say about us?

Further, is this what Tesco has been telling the CC?

INTEGRITY. It’s a word seldom used in the retail industry – is there much of it about? For example, what does the word “local” mean to a shopper in London?

Whole Foods Market, the new American arrival, says it lets the consumer decide on the definition by giving the source on the label.

“There are degrees of local – produce sourced from Britain is more local than produce sourced from Spain,” according to the company.

So Scottish raspberries are local to London? Trading standards are said to be investigating after a complaint against Whole Foods by a miffed Waitrose.

Local And Proud Of It is the slogan of the My Shop Is Your Shop independent retailer campaign.

The owner will be local, probably living over the shop. Isn’t this the only truthful definition of local?

BLUEPRINT. A note for newcomers. When the Take Home Blueprint was launched by the FWD in 1994 it brought to the sector new standards of merchandising advice based exclusively on the needs if the independent retailer.

For the first time in the history of the sector, “guidance” by brand manager spin doctors was ditched in favour of a scheme which gave the owner-manager space on shelves for his choice, reflecting what local people wanted to buy, and brand leaders.

Transparency has anchored the Blueprint as a beacon of education in a swirling sea of multiple competition and changing consumer demand.

The Blueprint has been the foundation of the sector’s thinking and action and profitability over the years.

It’s not perfect. What is? But it is honest and it works.

HINT. The CC, quite rightly, on October 2 denounced the Sky acquisition of a big share of ITV as anti-competitive and against the public interest. This body language surely lets the cat out of the bag – will Peter Freeman become the sainted one by maintaining this mood and declaring that the Big Four are also against the public interest?

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