How has Tesco got away with it for so long?

Has Tesco's mission to take over the world hit a snag? After years of steady expansion into every area of our lives, criticism of the retail behemoth seems to be mounting in volume and variety.

Despite its obvious unwillingness to curb the power of the supermarkets, the OFT looks likely to buckle under the pressure of MPs and lobbyists and order a fairly radical review of the major supermarkets - and in particular Tesco.

Policies up for scrutiny are likely to include below-cost pricing, Tesco's relentless acquisition of high-street convenience stores, and contracts with suppliers.

None of which is a surprise. In fact the most amazing aspect about the whole Tesco saga is how little criticism its strategy has hitherto attracted.

One pound in every eight spent at UK retailers ends up in Tesco's coffers.

It controls 31 per cent of the British grocery market and is the largest private-sector employer in the UK.

I recently visited a Tesco Extra store and literally got lost in a consumer labyrinth. I probably could have survived quite comfortably for some time before being rescued. Stock included - in no particular order - furniture, cooking equipment, garden furniture, sports equipment, soft furnishings, stationery, TVs, a pharmacy, books, DVDs, an optician, mortgages, loans, credit cards, insurance (for everything from cars to pets), some surprisingly attractive clothing, mobile phones, broadband connection - and, of course, food and wine.

Let's face it - Tesco is taking over our lives. Even the chattering classes, who would rather frequent a farmers' market, are sooner or later going to end up in Tesco or surfing Tesco.com. It is difficult to escape.

And where are the screaming headlines? Yes, the Association of Convenience Stores is mounting a pretty convincing argument about how Tesco is taking over the high street. The Trade Justice Movement, Friends of the Earth and farmers' unions are also on its case. But this pales in comparison with the type of attack suffered by McDonald's et al.

CEO Terry Leahy may have been forced onto a one-year rolling contract by shareholders but has escaped the fat-cat label, despite Tesco's board being the second-best rewarded after that of WPP.

How has Tesco avoided criticism? Because its low-key PR has worked brilliantly.

That and the fact that Leahy is remarkably affable and accessible.

But computers-for-schools initiatives are no longer diverting attention from supermarket dominance. The honeymoon is over.

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