Despite planning controls, the big four supermarkets (Tesco, Asda, Sainsbury and Morrisons) continue to battle for increased market share with ever more ambitious expansion plans.
Tesco plans to double the number of ‘Express’ stores, its small in town convenience format, to 1200 by 2015; and if it continues to expand at current rates, is likely to triple the number of out of town hypermarkets (Tesco ‘Extras’) to 300 by 2015. In common with all the other supermarkets, Tesco has been buying up land with development potential and is sitting on a ‘land bank’ of more than 185 development sites. If all of them were to receive planning permission this would create more than 4.5 million sq ft of new supermarket space.
Successive governments, recognising the damage to town centres caused by the growth of out-of-town retail sheds, have put limits on out of town development. Supermarkets have responded to these curbs on their growth by moving back into the high streets of large and small towns. The number of Tesco stores has increased from 568 in 2000 to 2,365 in 2005. Tesco says that stores in (or more commonly on the edge) of market towns now form the core of its business, and both Tesco and Sainsburys have shifted part of their expansion programmes to focus on smaller format inner city stores – Tesco ‘Metro’ and Sainsbury’s ‘Central’.
Sainsburys Local and Tesco Express are also rapidly replacing neighbourhood convenience stores and corner shops and are appearing on petrol station forecourts; Tesco now has 5% of the convenience store market. Temporarily thwarted in its plans to build out of town retail sheds and rapidly losing market share to Tesco, Asda has recently shifted direction and is also about to enter the convenience store market for the first time, with plans to open discount mini-supermarkets to compete directly with Tesco Metro stores.
Independent retailers, however, cannot compete and in 2004, 2,157 of them closed, compared with 1,079 going bust the previous year. A leaked report from the Parliamentary All-party Shops Group recently indicated that all of our independent retailers will have disappeared by 2015.
Yet the big supermarket chains clearly have the ear of this government, who show no signs of taking action against them. This is partly due to supermarket supporters within government, like Lord Sainsbury, and the revolving door between the Cabinet Office and Tesco, for former Blair advisers such as Lucy Neville-Rolfe, Philip Gould and David North. But it is also due to fierce direct lobbying by the supermarkets themselves. There are also macroeconomic reasons why the government does not want to break the power of the supermarkets – the competition between Tesco and Asda keeps prices and hence inflation down. This may be good for economic stability, but at what cost!
More and more people are deciding to take action against the corporate takeover of their communities by the big supermarkets. There are already at least 200 local groups (that we know of) fighting supermarket developments in their town. Armed with campaigning skills and some knowledge of the planning process many groups have taken on the supermarkets and won.
For more information see our recently updated guide ‘Checkout Chuckout: A diy guide to fighting supermarket developments’ www.corporatewatch.org.uk
For more information on the damage that supermarkets do to local communities, economies and the environment see our reports ‘What’s Wrong with Supermarkets?’ and ‘A Rough Guide to the UK Farming Crisis’.
Also see www.tescopoly.org.uk
Case Study: Portobello Campaign against the Superstore (PCATS) www.pcats.org.uk
In May 2005, Scottish campaigners successfully opposed a planning application for an 85,000sq ft superstore development in Portobello, Edinburgh. Although the supermarket developer was never revealed, local campaigners suspected it was an application from Tesco.
Top tips from PCATS include:
- Try to appeal to a broad spectrum of supporters. We had every age group, from eight weeks to eighty years old, at our public meetings.
- Inform supporters regularly through as many channels as possible – email, newsletters, leaflets in shops, libraries, pubs, etc. or delivered through doors. Press releases, web sites, public meetings and demonstrations.
- Use planning arguments (employ consultants, independent of local authorities if necessary) and don’t just rely on emotion.
- You need to be organised and persistant.
- Organise a wide programme of enjoyable fundraising activities. Use events to help keep the campaign momentum, by getting people together, especially during fallow periods. The Portobello campaign, with Ceilidhs, a Burns Night Supper, coffee mornings and a film-themed calendar of local traders, raised £6,000!
 Tesco Stores Plc Annual Report and Financial Statement 2005 p.5 http://184.108.40.206/annualreview05/downloads/tesco_report_2005.pdf
 Sarah Butler and Jenny Davey Asda fights back in war on Tesco with appeal to watchdog Times September 19, 2005 http://business.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,9074-1786936,00.html viewed 23/1/06
 Tesco ‘Tesco and Market Towns’ www.tesco.com/everylittlehelps/downloads/TescoCR_MarketTowns.pdf, viewed 3/3/05
 ‘Store Chain to beat Spar’ Sky Business News 12 December 2005 www.sky.com/skynews/article/0,,30400-13477577,00.html?f=rss Viewed 15/12/05
 Richard Fletcher ‘Asda to Launch Smaller Stores to Take the Fight to Tesco’ The Sunday Times 11 December 2005 www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,2095-1919963,00.html Viewed 15/12/05
 Institute of Grocery Distribution (2005) Convenience Retailing
 Dan Milmo ‘Tesco on defensive over MPs’ fears for small shops’ The Guardian January 2, 2006
 For more details on Tesco’s influence on government see Corporate Watch ‘Tesco: A Corporate Profile’ 2004 www.corporatewatch.org.uk/?lid=252 Viewed 8/11/05