Supermarkets have made our lives better?

Friday, February 22, 2008

Posted by Abby

Last weekend I read an interesting article by Jay Rayner, a food critic and commentator, about how, in his opinion, “supermarkets have made our lives better.”

This is an unfashionable viewpoint with many people who consider themselves committed foodies - they will refuse to step into a supermarket and if they do it’s always with a hint of shame and despair at having been caught out by the system.

However, for many people supermarkets are the best (and occasionally only) option. The range of products is broad and tailored to the local community, prices are affordable and the time that needs to be spent on shopping can be managed better with a single location/online ordering.


Having said that, there are many concerns about the power that supermarkets wield. As Jay says, “We know that massive supermarkets have been squeezing producers for years, slicing margins which, in turn, has had a knock-on effect on the quality of produce. The excesses of industrial food production in the country are a direct result of the buying policies of the supermarkets.”

These are important issues which need addressing. Here in the UK there was some hope that the Competition Commission which has just reported after a two-year investigation into whether supermarkets abuse their market position, drive small rivals out of business or abuse their suppliers. The recommendations seem to lack teeth and significant change is unlikely.

This means, as ever, it’s important that we all take the time to think about the issues associated with the industry which puts food in front of us. We need to make informed choices and take responsibility for the system, whether it’s small-scale and homespun or national and industrial, that we support.

What are the key issues for you and what choices do you make?





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This Post was written by abby from eat the right stuff.



9 comments:

it might be bad form to comment on your own post but hopefully the fact that i'm among friends means you'll forgive me!

the issue for me is balance. when i have time i shop in a range of places and prioritise using independent retailers/producers. when life is catching up with me i inevitably fall back on convenience which usually means an online supermarket shop.

i do try and shop in an area where there's a range of options - daily fruit&veg market, deli, organic butcher, fishmonger and a choice of supermarkets!

abby said...
February 22, 2008 at 10:17:00 AM GMT+1  

Unfortunately in this part of the world, organic food is very expensive. Having said that however, most of the produce that you get from the markets (the proper markets) is very fresh although how organic it really is would be anyones guess. The meat and fish is also really, really good and much better than the stuff in the Supers. Its also convenient that most suburbs have a local market selling a wealth of fresh produce. Some things however are only found in Supers - especially imported stuff like Button Mushrooms, Portobellos etc. So I guess for me, its a kind of a mix. And yes, tiing and convenience play a major role in my choice of where to shop.

Finally, Abby, keep commenting on your own post - there's nothing wrong there especially when you are adding on to your post!!

Dharm said...
February 22, 2008 at 12:36:00 PM GMT+1  

Living in a small town with one supermarket -- and a larger market 20 minutes farther down the road -- I've thought a lot about this issue. For many in our town, especially those without a car or without gas money for their car, the local supermarket is the lifeline. And it's an important business, one well worth supporting. I've found that they are very open to conversations with customers about where the food comes from, and every time I go I notice more and more organic or "happy meat" products appearing on the shelves. By purchasing those products, I can encourage the market to do better. Shopping locally, by supporting the farms in our area, is something we all seem to do automatically. But if our supermarket closes, the town center will fold around it. So sometimes there are other issues to keep in mind. Great and though-provoking post, Abby. Thanks.

February 22, 2008 at 1:09:00 PM GMT+1  

dharm - is intensive farming and food production a worry in malaysia? i grew up in malawi and food production was much smaller scale (we used to visit one of the farms to stock up at the weekends) which meant that issues like organic or not seemed less of a concern.

lydia - really good point about supermarkets being needed in smaller communities to enable them to function, and the need to support that.

abby said...
February 22, 2008 at 3:30:00 PM GMT+1  

I buy from supermarkets, ethnic grocery stores, warehouses and farmers markets. And, I am not ashamed to say that I buy from supermarkets or regular grocery stores. I try to strike a balance, quite like Abby, and I have also figured out where to buy what. The local King Sooper's (Krogers) carries a lot of local produce and Safeway is following suit. Whole Foods and Wild Oats are expensive and I get the same organic salads at Sam's (yes, that place owned by Wal*mart) for half the price. I have figured out how to work through the larger quantities I have to buy when I shop at Sam's.

If it weren't for supermarkets, we'd have next to no avenue for getting fresh produce from late fall through spring as the growing season in Colorado is very short. Also, we'd be eating very limited produce through the year. I am actually seeing better quality produce - both local and organic - in our supermarkets as they gear up to meet the competition from the Wild Oats-Whole Foods combine. (Wild Oats is Boulder-based.) And, interestingly enough, a friend of mine bought better fresh locally grown beans at Safeway compared to what I picked up at the farmers market! It was a very hot day (104F) and that made a world of difference to the beans!

Factors for me are: time, money, fresh, organic, and local. Depending on the nature of the produce and the time of the year and the state of my life, the most important factor can be any of these.

Lydia, I can relate to what you say about the local supermarket being a lifeline. When we lived in a small town in Illinois, the local Eagle was bought out and shut down by Albertson's after over 20 years or more of being in business at that same location. Luckily jobs were not lost as they transferred the employees to their other stores. But we were left with no option but to shop at the more expensive Jewel (Albertson's) which was right next door or travel farther out to the next town and pay higher taxes as well. It made a signficant difference to my monthly budget.

Manisha said...
February 22, 2008 at 9:21:00 PM GMT+1  

I think its a question of availability and where you are. Plus i've noticed that in england particularly theres a sort of snobbery about good food , something which supermarkets both contribute to and help reduce at the same time. For example you can get exotic spices and interesting fruit , which helps encourage people to experiment but at the same time you can buy a very cheap chicken which tastes of nothing and has its price reduced next to a free range , corn fed chicken which is incredibly expensive and doesn't seem to go down.

Emi226 said...
February 26, 2008 at 11:57:00 AM GMT+1  

Here in Sweden, there are remarkably few fresh food markets you can go to (partly because well, there's nothing that grows in Swedish winter). On the other hand, the big supermarkets help you in your decisions to buy organic by having organic home brands and marking the organic wares on the receipt. You even get a little total at the bottom about how big a percentage of money you spent on organic products this time! I love the initiative and support it gladly - the quality is better and since it's usually fairtrade too, so's my conscience.

Apart from that, most local grocers are also chains, but usually support locally-made food.

jokergirl said...
February 26, 2008 at 12:08:00 PM GMT+1  

Here on the East coast of the US, I can go to outdoor farmer's markets and roadside stands for produce in the summer, but in the winter it has to be the supermarket. I even go to BJs (a warehouse store) for potatoes and onions. In my area, there are no greengrocers. Most people live in suburbs, and there are few butcher shops, and even fewer fishmongers. And they are not conveniently grouped together in a convenient downtown shopping location, but scattered around in semi-suburban strip malls or freestanding suburban stores.

The supermarkets have the best prices and they save gasoline. I've never had "proper" shops to compare them to. Supermarkets are where my mother shopped, and where I shop.

February 27, 2008 at 4:58:00 PM GMT+1  

I would say i do a mix - leaning more towards Farmer's market, CSA and organic stores. I have noticed the supermarket I often visit has started adding a large variety of local organic market and increased on what they offer. I find this pleasing as I see the changes are taking a turn for the better.

Like Manisha I have the same factors: time money, fresh, mostly organic and preferably local. And with a good mix I can achieve this.

Meeta said...
March 7, 2008 at 9:29:00 PM GMT+1  

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