Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Stand up for your independent shops

Until they became conscious they will never rebel, and until after they have rebelled they cannot become conscious.”
George Orwell, 1984

From Phones to pushchairs, pet insurance, mortgages to funeral services it seems that the large corporate supermarkets want to every penny you have to give from your life, from cradle to grave and everything in between.

It's our independent shops that offer us the very best of seasonal local produce.

I’m very careful where I spend my money.  Money after all is power and we seem to have handed over power to some very dubious corporations.  I did think about apologising to the people who I might offend in this post.. but I’m not going to because it’s about choice.  Most people have been completely seduced by the supermarkets and we have, as a nation been sucked in to a vacuum that has changed an entire nations eating, purchasing and even social behaviour over the past thirty years.

I resent being controlled, and so I make every effort to buy my food at my small independent shops.  My butcher, my fishmonger, my grocer and my local farmers market get as much of my custom as possible.  When I do have to shop in a supermarket I choose the most ethical, after all I still need loo roll.

Last week, I found myself outside my local Tesco.  The car park was full.  "Helping you spend less every day" in large letters above the entrance.  

In my opinion nothing could be further from the truth.  I wonder if the irony of the slogan amuses the board of Directors because it seems to me that Tesco have absolutely no intention of helping you spend less.  To begin with the store lay out has been designed over the years using behavioural experts to maximise the amount spent.  The shelves themselves are stacked in such a way to increase the likelihood that you will pop the most profitable products in your basket.  Bargain buy one get one free scream to purchase food you don’t even need.  The entire store is aggressively designed to make you spend more.  Even the choice of yellow and red colours of the stickers are psychologically aggressive and designed to increase stress levels.  The result is an increase in cortisol symptoms which results in an increased appetite for high fat foods and cravings for sugar and sweet foods. 

A report this week published in this BBC news article says that Britain's biggest supermarkets have been defending their practices after a report suggested that up to half of the world's food is thrown away.  Believe me this is not helping people to spend less everyday.

The lady I buy my beef from at the Melton Mowbray Farmers Market
Just last week as I was walking about a large supermarket I've not been to in years and years  I noticed that that layout and complete saturation of sales messages had raised my anxiety levels. All around me there were deals and offers and supposed bargains not to be missed, but every purchase seemed to come with a bamboozle of information, mostly about the price. In the end I suppose people are so bombarded with the “it’s cheaper’” message that they simply accept this and for their own sanity turn off the scream of information.

As my husband and I got to the back of the store by the bakery there were several security guards and extra staff and about thirty people all kind of milling about. There was considerable tension in the air and my husband asked what was going on.  Stand well clear if you want my advice said the security guard.  What followed could only be described as three simultaneous scrums. As the reduced trolleys were wheeled out the crowd that had gathered literally swarmed over them with a frenzy of people pushing, shoving and  even standing on each other throwing food into their baskets as though they were post apocalypse movie extras.  I found myself staring in disbelief.

“ It’s the same ones every night.” Said that security guards.  “They’re total scum.”

I felt myself prickling, but decided to breath through my response. After all I was not the one there night in night out having to police this.  As we were at the till the cashier mentioned this nightly routine “ They are vultures,” she said scornfully.  “ They hang about in here waiting for the reductions with nothing better to do.” 

“Has it occurred to you that perhaps these cannot afford to eat if they don’t get the reduced food?”  I asked.  She shrugged. “ They should get a job.”

I drove home feeling that I had witnessed a whisper of what is going on all over my country.  The giant corporate supermarkets sending out messages that they care about us, whilst simultaneously
manipulating every aspect of our food decisions.  Who exactly does Tescos help spend less everyday? From the time poor wealthy to the really desperately poor they seem to me to just want as much of everyone’s money as they can get.  They want all of it - every penny.  Well Tesco’s, Asda, Sainsbury, Morrisons and any other overbearing corporate supermarket  ....  I do not believe that it is your divine right to make money no matter what the cost. 

It is the last time I will ever step foot in any of your stores, and so despite the inconvenience of finding a parking space and the extra time that it takes, I will consistently and continuously campaign for people to make the effort and support real people running independent shops who offer an alternative to the consumer. 

So I was wondering then, how to turn such a negative experience into a positive one and I thought I'd celebrate all that is good about independent shops. Do you have an outstanding butcher?  A wonderful fishmonger?  A fabulous grocer?  

Please leave a comment and go out of your way to keep them in business.  Your local shops care, they will be pleased to see you, respect your custom, give you good advice, fabulous food and support the local farmers and the community. In fact they are everything that Tesco’s are not. 

My last word to my own food blogging community is that collectively have serious influence  - so if you are a blogger & would you would like to make a difference then please add this logo to your site and tell the world about your local baker, butcher, cheesemonger or greengrocer. 

Everyday decisions add up to a lifetime of difference.  Be the change you want to see.


  1. Hear hear. Rebels unite. Well I am not really a rebel but Australia is facing its own supermarket price wars. Hardly anywhere can you see Australian made on a product and Coles and Woolworths have their own generic label on everything squeezing the local grower nearly out of business. I avoid "own brands" wherever possible and try to buy the Australian grown, Australian owned, Australian made product. And its not easy I can tell you. It seems this is an issue wherever you live.

  2. Fantastic piece. I couldn't agree more with what you say. I'm all for buying local, but sometimes with 3 young boys it's difficult. I gues we can only do what we can.

  3. If we all do what we can it will mount up and become a lot.

  4. I too have given up shopping in supermarkets Vanessa. And the food we are eating is tastier, fresher and greener (much more local) and I feel much happier about it all. I have also given up processed foods. I didn't eat much, but I don't want to be a slave to big brands ether.

    I hope others read this and are inspired to make the change too.

  5. Brilliant article, exactly how I feel too.

  6. Our butcher had to close his shop that he had on our parade due to increased rents and lack of local support, but he still delivers to us every 2 weeks being able to continue having combined his business with another butcher,the meat is far superior to anything you can get in the supermarket.

  7. Our butcher had to close his shop due to rent increases and lack of local support, luckily he combined his business with another butcher and carries on supplying us every 2 weeks, the meat is far superior to anything you can get in the supermarkets

  8. Great article, as you said "Be the change you want to see". If everybody supports independent shops, we will have better quality food, more sustainable and we will be less slaves. On the other hand and especially with the recession, many people can't afford to buy organics and independent local product, so there is no choice for some people but to keep buying in supermarkets.

    1. I agree that some produce is more. On the other hand my local market sells apples, pears, bananas, flowers, and potatoes much cheaper than even Aldi .. I have checked and done a price comparison on these products for a BBC radio show. So it is swings and roundabouts. Also many of the really cheap cuts of meat are only available form a butcher. I''ve never spotted the supermarkets selling ox cheek for example.

      I do use a supermarket. I shop in Waitrose and the co-op but I guess I only spend about 45 - 50% on the household budget in there because I try and shop where there is an independent alternative. I buy my fruit and veg from my greengrocer and meat from my butcher. Life would be hard work with out them. I suppose in the end I don;t like the idea that I am being manipulated and I don't think we should give the supermarkets all our custom with out consideration. I worry that they are indiscriminate with there policies and purchasing which in the end will limit our choices.

    2. I totally agree Vanesa. The good thing is that I think people is starting to change their minds and buying more and more in independent commerce.

      I saw this yesterday, quite related to this issue, so maybe you are interested in give it a try:

    3. Thank you for the link .. I will check it out. x

  9. Its true that supermarkets have taken over everything! Your passion is infectious! If more people support independent stores then they will become the norm. I work near a great road that has lots of independent stores, delis, a butcher, bakers, greengrocers. I love going but honestly cant afford to shop there regularly as its so expensive, probably due to the affluent area its in. I need to seek out other independent shops further afield. There is a great fruit and veg market near me but none of it is organic or local produce which is also important to me. I already buy my meat from a great Butcher that is family run and I will now be on the lookout for a better alternative to the supermarket for fruit and veg!

  10. I'm a bit late to the party, but I'm just about to add the banner to my blog. As you know I've been a keen supporter of independent local shops since I don't know when ......


If you are reading my blog I must warn you that I am not impartial. I want to influence you. I want to make you stop for just a moment and consider the effect of a lifetime of seemingly insignificant decisions and how making small delicious choices can change the world.

I believe that we can change the world one bite at a time.

It's a delicious revolution.