Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 30 August 2015

It's time to check out who profits at grocers

By Robert McNeill

Published 08/03/2013

How interesting that a new supermarket is opening in Coalisland, and that it isn't one of the usual suspects: Tesco, Sainsbury's, Asda, and whatnot.

I've no interest in backing the Cookstown family business now opening its second Newell Stores supermarket in Coalisland. But it did make me wonder why so many supermarkets are concentrated in so few hands.

Don't get me wrong. I love my supermarket and would say shopping there is probably my favourite hobby and, certainly, the apex of my social life. It's my disco, club and glittering party all wrapped up in one.

The till-people are always polite and smiling (unlike the shelf-stackers and servers on the special counters, who seem to resent us somehow). Often, the till-people give me a special token so that I'll get money off next time I shop.

They're so kind. Sometimes I could weep with happiness as I bowl home with my bags of things I hadn't intended to buy.

But often, too, I feel guilty and resentful. I know the small fortune I hand over every week isn't going to the workers but to evil shareholders – the bourgeoise's equivalent of welfare scroungers wanting money for nothing – and the cunning owners, whoever they are.

I certainly don't want my irresponsibly splashed dosh going to Lord Sainsbury and his anti-Scottish Labour Party. Oddly enough, there are two Lord Sainsbury's: John, Baron Sainsbury of Preston Candover, who takes the whip, as they say, of the anti-human Conservative Party; and David, Baron Sainsbury of Turville, the above-mentioned Labourite.

Between them, they own only 7.5% of Sainsbury's. Others in the family trust own a further 7.5%. But the majority shareholding is an investment firm for the Qatari royal family. Say what?

Not that I'm knocking Sainsbury's. It's a good supermarket and, with its "Local" stores and banks, is set to take over the world. But variety is the spice of life, and surely something local is preferable to these big conglomerates and their impossibly rich owners.

I'm told some of these people have more than one car. I don't know how many cars Cookstown's Conway family have and how they'll make out with their expanding adventure. But the 150 jobs created in Coalisland – which already has a Supervalu and Rice's, another independent – are most welcome, particularly if the wages are decent.

Here's your simple cut out and throw away guide to economics: good wages help people to spend which helps businesses which employ more people who get good wages which they spend in businesses which then employ more people and round and round we go.

As I understand it, the big supermarkets work on economies of scale, placing such huge orders that small suppliers can't resist. However, the latter are paid a pittance per item so that we, the consumer, can buy cheaply and they, the royal capitalists in the desert, can make humungous profits.

It's a bad means to a good end. And who knows where the Conways will end up? Ennobled perhaps.

Supermarkets are now the centre of our lives. We visit them more than church, and it's not out of the question that, in future, you'll be able to baptise your child in Lidl. Or what about Sainsbury's for your wedding? With luck, you'll get a voucher for next time you do it.

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