A report by the National Retail Planning Forum (partly financed by supermarkets) found that in a catchment of 15km around 93 new superstores, around 10,000 new retail jobs were created and 35,000 destroyed – a net loss of 25,000 retail jobs (full-time equivalent). Each new superstore means the loss of 276 full-time equivalent jobs.
The figures are from the 1990s, and so the figures might be different if the study were carried out today, simply because, as the number of superstores grows, there are fewer small businesses, especially retail premises, to be closed by competition from superstores. So really, if figures could be obtained from the development of the first supermarkets, job losses would probably have been much higher. But instead of speculating, let’s have a look at what the 90s study tells us.
So, to planners, the message is that if you want to protect local jobs, say no to applications for out-of-town superstores, because each new superstore means the loss of getting on for 300 jobs. Not only that, but the jobs lost in small businesses will be much more interesting and autonomous than the shelf-stacking and checkout till jobs that superstores provide. Local authorities everywhere decry the lingering death of many of our High Streets, but they would be taken a bit more seriously if they did something about the growth of superstores.
Local resilience is a term at the heart of the Transition movement – what it means is the ability of a local community to provide for itself – especially in the face of peak oil and climate change – both of which will make it more difficult to provide for ourselves with produce from the other side of the world. It will also, by the way, make it a lot more difficult to drive to out-of-town superstores, rather than walk, cycle or bus to the market and small(er) shops in the centre of town. But the main problem, I think, for local resilience posed by superstores is that, unlike small shops and market stalls, they exist to maximise returns to their shareholders – and in what way can the sucking of money out of our communities to pay distant (and already wealthy) shareholders contribute to local resilience? The answer of course, is that it can’t. Superstores destroy local resilience.
Furthermore, fewer visits to town centres means a loss of service jobs there too – and sure enough, superstores have stepped in to provide these services too (pharmacies, travel agents etc.), all of which means more money sucked out of communities, and more jobs lost.
If you want local resilience – i.e. strong, safe, buzzing local communities – then the message is clear. Don’t use superstores (or even supermarkets – they still exist to service shareholders, and so contribute to the sucking of resources out of a community, in the same way that all types of corporate branches do, whether they’re banks, coffee shops or electrical retailers. Corporate branches also destroy the unique character of your community, as all High Streets start to look the same.
It’s hard to avoid corporate businesses, but other options do exist. They include:
- community-supported agriculture
- small shops, bakeries etc.
- veg box deliveries, farmers’ markets and other direct sales
- produce your own food
By the way, on point no. 3 above, for Romanians (as well as people from many other countries who have yet to experience the joys of superstores), farmers’ markets are just called markets. When I explained to Romanian friends that a farmers’ market was where local farmers brought local produce to sell in a special market in the centre of their nearest town, they failed to see what was ‘special’ about it. For them, that’s exactly what a market is – and they’re everywhere.
When it comes to the point above about superstores sucking out resources from communities to pay external shareholders, there are two notable exceptions – the Co-op and Waitrose – the Co-op is of course a co-operative organisation owned by its members, with no shareholders, and Waitrose is a partnership that is owned by its staff via shares, but with no external shareholders.
The views expressed in our blog are those of the author and not necessarily lowimpact.org's
1John Harrison December 20th, 2015
By the mid 1970’s it was obvious how things were going in retail grocery. Tesco and Asda had reached a size where their buying power was greater than any of the wholesalers who served the independent sector. They literally were selling the headline products for less than the small shops could buy for.
The shoppers flocked to them and the rate of their growth increased. The big supermarket chains were acquiring the smaller chains, consolidating their position. Then the vertical integration began with direct supply contracts to farmers, The abolition of the Milk Marketing Board in 1994 spelled the death knell for the dairy industry as, having effectively destroyed the independent competition the oligopoly looked for further savings by squeezing suppliers.
Coming up to date, not only are most of the independents gone but so is the infrastructure that supported them. The wholesalers / cash & carry operations are a rare breed and the wholesale vegetable markets are mostly gone.
In large cities there is still some choice left to the shopper, for example, independent Asian shops often offer fantastic value but out in the hinterlands it’s far more limited. The main opposition to Tesco, Asda, Morrisons etc being from the discounters Aldi & Lidl who are themselves multi-national corporates.
Markets are few and pretty poor compared with big city markets, Happily we do have the co-op, bless ’em.
Interestingly there’s a very informal supply chain developing with networks of smallholders swapping produce, pig for lamb, but outside of regulatory systems.
2Dave Darby December 21st, 2015
Interesting overview. Yes, there are some chinks of light – the growing informal sector, plus veg box schemes, community-supported agriculture, farmers’ markets and the boom in allotments.
3johnhson December 21st, 2015
I was in the business – working in my father’s shop. We saw the way it was going from the inside and the effect the opening of a large out-of-town superstore had on us and others. The shop supported the family and gave part-time employment to about 6 people, mainly women. Hours of work were mutually agreed, often to fit in with school hours. The tasks were varied and jobs interesting because people weren’t pigeon holed. Perhaps I’ve rosy specs, but there was a lot of laughter and it was a happy place to work.
I’m afraid the fact is most people will shop in supermarkets as they offer what they want, when they want it and cheaply.
One idea we tried in later years but couldn’t bring it off (finance and finding a site) was to open a market superstore with a greengrocer, food store, baker and butcher etc. all under one roof. I still think it could have worked, offering a one-stop shop to the shopper.
4Dave Darby December 21st, 2015
Thanks for the insight. Yes, as well as destroying jobs, the jobs that superstores provide are nowhere near as enjoyable and interesting than the jobs they destroy. And the one-stop grouping of small shops sounds like a great idea.