He who sleeps with one eye open

Not many people know this – but many years ago a few senior and imaginative people in wholesaling talked around the idea that they might pool their buying power to produce a generic own label to be sold through every major cash and carry.

It’s unthinkable today, but this discussion arose during a recession when the giant multiples were – as now – adding their own downward price pressure on top of the underlying economic squeeze.

Own label value lines in the multiples were then hurting our sector. By joining together, a few creative wholesalers believed they could get a decent deal on some basic products to help independents compete.

But nothing came of the idea.



It’s not exactly a row, but a heated discussion has broken out in connection with own label in independents. There are two schools of thought about their best position in store.

Eye-line is buy-line is the tried and trusted maxim for any brand, but some retailers believe their value own label product range should be offered in one focused hot-spot under a display board saying ‘My best value …’

But other retailers want to position these big margin lines within the appropriate category on shelf. When ‘value’ is king, as it is currently, this is a crucial debate.


Sometimes you feel that Sir Terry’s PR releases are aimed at just a handful of people – those sainted and worthy figures who sit on the Competition Commission.

Just when the clamour is reaching a crescendo for the new grocery market Ombudsman to be appointed, and for the new grocery code of malpractice to be published, Tesco reveals relatively poor trading results.

Was there a touch of glee inherent in the announcement?

Competitors reported better Christmas trading than the dominant one. So now Sir Terry can say that the demonising of his mammoth enterprise was unfair and he is the suffering one.

== MANDY. ==

Does anyone in the grocery trade know Lord Mandelson’s mobile number? It’s a fair question following a Guardian piece.

Simon Jenkins, probably the most formidable columnist in the national press – former editor of The Times, no less – pointed the way in his rant of December 31.

Attacking the Government’s bailouts for the banks, Simon Jenkins says the Son of the Manse is letting small businesses fail because the Government does not know the people who run them.

“What friend of the Secretary of State for Features > Business, Lord Mandelson, ever owned a corner shop?” asked Jenkins.

I pass on the question to my ever vigilant readers.


The fall of Woolworths will help independents. They can get into pick and mix confectionery big style.

And weighout sweets could make a big comeback. Gobstoppers are popular.

There’s always the risk of increasing ‘shrinkage’ as kids pick and pocket. But the example set by a Nottingham store might help – the retailer rewards children’s confidential tip-offs of thieving with an extra free. Tricky?

It’s a mistake to cut back on big brands. We couldn’t find a KitKat Dark in our local symbol recently. Sale lost.

== HACKS. ==

The appointment of trade magazine editor James Bielby as deputy director general of FWD follows the pattern set in 1989 when trade press editor Alan Toft was recruited to head up that body.

With Booker chief Barry Skipper in the chair, Toft redesigned FWD into its current structure and recruited several big new members. He moved the office to Eastbourne and founded the magazine you are reading (now published by Wm Reed) to build profile for the organisation over his 16 years in office.

Julian Hunt, editor of The Grocer, was recruited by FDF for a senior job. That makes three editors swapping the pen for the lobby. The moral: It’s a communications job, ideal for hacks.

== AMAZING. ==

When the Vigilantes were looking for an electric item their local store was potentially their natural supplier. But the lady there said the item was out of stock.

Then she said: “Why don’t you get it from Amazon?”

Strewth! Amazon does not need this support. But the lady is obviously a candidate for the MSYS media and marketing seminars where there is a focus on not giving the competition a helping hand.


Independents have a new form of competition – from the Super Milkman. It’s said that Dairy Crest will roll out to the nation its Milk More service under which you pay on line for a doorstep delivery of milk, eggs, bread and all the daily needs provided by the local store.

Dairy Crest is under profit pressure but it’s investing in its Country Life butter brand with very effective TV ads featuring Johnny Rotten from the Sex Pistols.

Cathedral City, Utterly Butterly and Petits Filous brands are big names which Dairy Crest markets very well. But can Super Milkman offer the value for money or the chat with neighbours on offer in a local independent store – often the only human contact some lonely folk have all day?

== CAREFUL. ==

Some wholesalers still do not believe in public relations and the building of marketing profile in spite of the fact that there is an inescapable benefit that these functions bring.

But who in Tesco’s huge PR department wrote Sir Terry’s speech for the Guildhall when he referred to grocery trading in the Middle Ages as “tough”? This was a bit of waffle to fill in the allotted time for the speech.

But the markets decided it was a coded message for current trading and not a comment on historical fact.

Next day the share price fell by 3%, or pound;800m.

== CRUNCH. ==

Reports that wholesalers are chasing independents who are slow to pay their bills, and that wholesalers are therefore meeting difficulty in paying suppliers, bring back memories of recessions in the 1980s and 90s.

There is a major difference, however. There are fewer small shops and fewer wholesalers. This should enable more productive jaw, jaw instead of destructive war, war.

In other words, the the bank manager, the wholesaler and the retailer should theoretically be talking to each other for longer and more constructively than of yore, when rash impatience closed shops.

That’s what the Prime Minister is instructing banks to do in the mortgage market to delay repossessions. What’s the difference?

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