Captain Vigilante

NFRN. This trade association, the National Federation of Retail Newsagents, caring exclusively for genuine independents goes from strength to strength – as Booker has recognised with its new trading agreement which gives news-based c-stores excellent terms.

It’s a coup for Booker at a time of economic downturn, giving the wholesaler endorsed access to 18,000 NFRN retailer members.

But there’s more. The NFRN Helpline is a dedicated call centre where a seven-strong team handles 150 calls a day from members. No other body representing independents can match this – but today it’s a boon for family businesses.

GIVEAWAY. Justin King carelessly revealed the costings with which he is able to wipe the floor with big brands as he and the rest of the giants flood their stores with own label.

Sainsbury ketchup, he says, contains 40% more tomatoes but is nearly half the retail price of the leading brand.

Shurely shome mishtake? Or are the cost accountants at our big brand headquarters asleep on the job.

Tomatoes are cheap. But it beggars belief that the bigger quantity in own label bottles of ketchup is truly reflected in a price to Sainsbury which enables the latter to beat the big brand retail price by half.

Do wholesaler own label buyers get the same deal? No, they tell me.

PLAINTIFF. Farmers are complaining again. They say the highly profitable giant retailers are screwing farmers and growers and beating up suppliers in the panic to beat the credit crunch.

But this is what Mr Gordon Brown wants, is it not? He and Sir Terry are at one in helping “hard working families”, as distinct from lay-abouts, to beat the economic downturn.

When food prices soared earlier this year, the Prime Minister’s ratings plunged. It just isn’t true that he picked up the phone and instructed Sir Terry – one of his close economic advisors – to screw the farmers to get the prices down again.

And to hell with the Code of Practice, ombudsman and all. Anti-Tesco protesters please note.

TETLEY. When Boddingtons was the cream of Manchester, Tetley’s was the pride of Leeds. No it’s not quite the same level of prestige but the planned closure of the Leeds brewery is causing a fuss in Yorkshire.

The ale of choice for millions, Tetley’s of the well-remembered nutty flavour and fresh in-the-mouth finish was one brand which was expected to survive the acquisition by Carlsberg.

But the closure is not until 2011. Time for a re-think?

ECO-BAGS. Almost two years ago the My Shop is Your Shop (MSYS) campaign provoked wholesale industry thinking on the issue of bags for life. Not much happened for a time – no change there then.

But suddenly wholesalers picked up on consumers eco-anxieties about plastic bags and now bags for life seem to be everywhere in the small shop sector.

The energetic Rural Shops Alliance got stuck in with its bag. John Mainwood sold more than 120 in a week in his Premier store in a Sussex village.

Mrs Vigilante was provided with an acceptable fully biodegradable and 100% compostable free shopping bag by a local eco-warrior retailer recently – manufactured by [http://www.europackaging.co.uk].

NOISE. Calling in at a wholesaler-owned symbol shop, the sensitive ears of the author were affronted by the in-store ‘music’.

But the shop was brightly lit, well merchandised with a very professional offering and it was busy, so who cares about pop-averse wrinklies who nevertheless often outspend younger folk?

George Orwell cared and got it right. Music played on loudspeakers in public places, he said, has “the function to prevent thought and conversation and to shut out natural sounds “.

So who wants to chat to customers in this store?

CRUMBS. Let them eat cake, said Marie-Antoinette, But when the manager of a cash and carry found that a big order for cakes he had placed had not been delivered by the supplier, he had to apologise to a retailer who needed them for a special event.

It turned out that the supplier had been pressured by a member of the muscle-flexing Big Five to deliver a big promotional order quickly so the cash and carry order – placed weeks before – was sacrificed to meet the giant’s urgent wishes.

Don’t blame the hapless supplier. Blame the Office of Fair Trading which has allowed the corporate bully-boys to dominate the marketplace so utterly and completely.

SPEND. It’s not surprising the giant retailers have increased their advertising spend so significantly as the economy plunges south. They can do this on the back of the cost prices they extract from the supplier.

In the last six months Tesco has boosted its ad spend by 18.8 % to pound;47.9m and at Asda the spend is up by no less than 52% to pound;34.7m. Sainsbury (up 21.3%) and Morrisons (up 15.2%) confirm the trend.

This advertising is designed to lure unthinking shoppers into buying more at lower prices. But about one third of what they buy is thrown away, making it cheaper to shop local just-in-time for daily needs.

Landmark is making this point very strongly. Just-in-time should be embraced by every wholesaler and retailer urgently.

USE-BY. On the subject of food waste, Tesco is accused in The Guardian of throwing away useable food.

While some readers were promising to stand by the skips at the back of the store, awaiting unwanted foodstuffs to help with the housekeeping, a food safety officer explained dates on packs to puzzled readers.

The use-by date is the only one with legal status. Dates such as sell-by or display-until are simply advisory. We all know this but consumers don’t – and Tesco apparently zealously over-interpreted this leading to what one reader described as “criminal waste”.

But we ask, who pays when food is thrown out needlessly? The supplier?

COSTCO. Ending on a seasonal note, Costco donated 20 hampers to the creative MSYS Christmas campaign for independents to use as promotional in-store raffle or charity features in the run-up to the big peak.

Such has been the phenomenal and positive response from the retailers who received them, and are using them in-store, that it is confidently predicted that a community promotional hamper will be de rigueur in every local shop in future. Costco can supply at a decent price.

And a Happy Christmas and prosperous New Year to all my readers.

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