LEADER: Supermarket giants can’t rely on apathy

The latest report into the alleged dominance of the UK’s ‘big four’ supermarkets shows that this is a story that won’t quite go away.

All the usual issues are rolled out: one pound in every seven spent in British shops goes through Tesco’s tills; the big supermarkets control 75 per cent of the market; the accusations that they exploit smaller suppliers.

Columnists, like this one, mull over the issues. Radio phone-ins ask consumers what they think. And, once again, very little is done.

Clearly the current Competition Commission inquiry, which was launched 18 months ago, has been providing steady work for PR people, lobbyists and lawyers from all sides.

It is still the single biggest corporate affairs issue for Tesco, Asda et al, and a major focus for pressure groups and trade associations, from the Federation of Small Businesses and the Association of Convenience Stores, to Friends of the Earth.

It is not difficult to see who is winning. While the protestors continue to occasionally hijack the news agenda and force the Government to keep the issue on its ‘to do’ list, the harsh fact is that on Wednesday, as the initial findings emerged, shares in the retail food sector moved steadily upwards.

The might of the big supermarkets, combined with the apathy of shoppers, means inertia rules.
This writer is as guilty as any of them. Despite preferring to use local shops to avoid tasteless shrink-wrapped produce, time pressures and convenience often make supermarkets the first option.

And yet, the danger is not quite over for the ‘big four’. There is a lingering sense of unease among the public, which sees the Tesco logo springing up everywhere.

Plus there is a swelling mistrust in a Government that, despite a rhetoric on social justice and support for the entrepreneur, continues to look as if it is just going through the motions and wasting everyone’s time.

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