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Supermarkets: wider choice comes at a cost to shoppers and suppliers | the big issue

Farmers have been drawn into a relationship that means they lose any power as food producers

I would like to congratulate Henry Porter for his excellent article on the corrosive and destructive effects of supermarkets on the country (“It’s time we held our over-mighty supermarkets to account“, Comment). I am married to a farmer and concur with the view that farmers have been drawn into a relationship with the supermarkets that has demanded they relinquish any power they might have as food producers.

I bang on about the detrimental effects of supermarket power to anyone who will listen to me and it always astounds me that even people I would expect to be better informed have swallowed the line that a supermarket will bring jobs and prosperity to a town. I can only assume that only one side of this story has really been heard.

Noreen Wainwright



Reading Henry Porter’s sad diatribe against supermarkets, I have to assume he still believes in monsters under the bed. If he fact-checked his fears he’d find out they’re nothing more than shadows on the wall.

To respond to some of Mr Porter’s terrors: more than 98% of adults working in retail earn above the minimum wage; supermarket job numbers are rising but so is total retail employment and it remains one of the few sectors where you truly can start at the bottom and become the boss; the Office for National Statistics has credited fierce supermarket competition with taking the sting out of inflation; retail was the first sector to remove artificial transfats from food completely and to roll out the government’s health advice on all own-brand alcohol.

Henry Porter proposes a Leveson inquiry for supermarkets. There have been three inquiries into the sector since 2000 and the latest concluded: “Consumers are receiving the benefits of competition such as value, choice, innovation and convenience.”

The people benefiting from the supermarkets’ growth are the same people whose daily shopping habits have made it happen – the customers.

Stephen Robertson,

Director general,

British Retail Consortium

London SW1

Among the money-saving, cost-cutting habits of supermarkets, Henry Porter omitted to mention their most recent scheme: do-it-yourself paying. Not only did they long ago give up assisting customers with packing their shopping, they have now decided we can be their unpaid labour by introducing customer check-out payments. So far, I refuse to weigh, register the cost and pay for my purchases through a machine, but I notice some shops have already done away with check-out counters, so there will soon be no alternative. Are we going to tolerate this latest cheap labour scheme?

Annette Thomas

London N7

I have some spare time and some disposable income and like nothing more than window shopping for antiques and popping into charming local shops. My mother paints a very different picture. She raised a family in a Yorkshire town in the 60s. She tells of walking with the twins in the pram down the hill to the bus stop and waiting in the rain for the bus to take us all into town. There, she would traipse round all the local shops for the nice things in life such as food – Spam, tinned carrots, lard and Angel Delight for a Sunday treat.

Today, we arrive home from the supermarkets with plentiful supplies of fresh produce, even organic food if we want it, well presented and with a choice of brands. And all at times to suit and with the added attraction of an ample car park free for the first two hours. Paradise has surely arrived.

In these days of ever-eroded options for our democratic society, the one area where we, the Great British public, can express our wants and desires most assuredly is via our wallets where every pound spent is a vote for how we want to live. The supermarket party wins by a landslide.

Adrian Bray

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