Guard against complacency

BY?JOHN?WOOD

Looking back at our August issue last year it struck me how much the environment has changed in the food and drink market. In my editorial last year I was berating MPs for their complete indifference towards the unfair practices of the superstores, and their cowardice and lack of principles in not tackling this issue.

With the honourable exception of the Small Shops Group of MPs, many of their colleagues are still burying their heads in the sand, but thankfully everything else has moved on at an incredible pace, with both public sentiment and the authorities pushing the superstores onto the back foot.

The Competition Appeals Tribunal deserves credit for pulling apart the pathetic work of the OFT and virtually forcing it to call for an inquiry.

There is no guarantee that the Competition Commission will come up with any remedies to the retail giants unfair practices – it identified some in its last inquiry but said nothing could be done.

But this inquiry will be the only chance we will have to persuade the authorities to give us a level playing field.

The media has also played a part highlighting some of the more outrageous bully boy tactics of the superstores. And perhaps most important of all, more and more consumers are recognising the value to their community of their local independent stores, and the My Shop is Your Shop campaign can take a lot of the credit for this.

But the speed of this turnabout in the market should act as a warning. Public sentiment is volatile. It can be influenced by powerful campaigns, and the superstores have very deep pockets when it comes to PR. Tesco has suddenly remodelled itself as a friend of the environment and local communities. Recently Sir Terry Leahy got a lengthy plug on Radio 4’s Today programme about Tesco’s plans to offer Clubcard points to customers who reuse plastic bags.

The momentum is moving in our direction at the moment but we must guard against complacency and loudly promote the value of our sector at every opportunity.

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