When it comes to the battle between the independent food shop or the supermarket, it’s pretty obvious who’s got the upper hand. While independent stores have more knowledgeable staff and generally fresher produce, they are often more expensive and have limited opening hours, not to mention their scattered locations across the town or city. Supermarkets, on the other hand, are ironically now on every street corner, taking the place of the corner shop. They’re open for longer, have more variety and now sell not only food, but books, TVs, petrol and insurance. They truly are a one stop shop for everything you need in your modern life.
For every £10 spent on the high street, £7 is spent at a supermarket, so it’s no wonder that independent greengrocers, butchers and fishmongers are drastically on the decline. But how did this all happen?
It started in the 50s when an idea from the States came across the ocean and spread in Britain. Instead of going into a shop and being served by a shopkeeper, the idea was reversed and the customer became their own server, having more time to think about and choose the products they wanted. Supermarkets became incredibly popular because they needed fewer staff (and therefore lower staff costs), allowed more products to be stored (meaning greater bargaining power with the suppliers), and ultimately created greater choice for the customer.
As this choice grew, naturally so did the size of the supermarkets, meaning many were set up out of the city centre. Even though they were now out of town, they tempted customers from any independent stores left on the high street by staying open for longer and providing car park spaces.
As their success and profits grew, soon they became the only output for supplier’s products, and with this monopoly, were able to have more control over supplier’s prices. Suppliers were left with a choice-sell large amounts of their products to supermarkets who wanted it at a low price, or sell a few boxes to a little store who were willing to pay a bit more but would sell far far less.
Supermarkets’ convenience in location and what they sold along with their competitive pricing quickly put an end to the popularity of independent shops. But should we be that bothered that these little stores are closing down? After all, isn’t it the independent shops’ inability to keep up with consumer change that’s part of their downfall?
The one thing that independent stores have and supermarkets sorely miss is their level of customer care and the roots that independent stores have with the local economy. Greengrocers, fishmongers and butchers will all be experts in their trades, knowing how to prepare, cook and store all their products. They’ll be able to advise you on the best way of cooking what you buy, are more likely to give you discounts or give you items for free, and generally take more care over the service you receive. They have to do more to keep you as a customer. Generally, they’ll also source their ingredients locally, putting more money back into the local economy, financially helping the people that produce the food you eat, and keeping down emissions by lowering travelling miles and costs.
But is there a place for these independent shops on today’s high street? It’s difficult to see how they can survive under such strong competition from the big supermarket chains, especially when supermarkets are more conveniently located and have longer opening hours. The irony now is that supermarkets are now moving back onto the high street and opening up ‘Metro’ versions of their stores, now replacing the independent corner shops that sell milk at 10 at night. Independent shops have got a big fight ahead of them to keep their place on the high street.
If you want to find out more about the places Rachel visited on the film here are some links to their websites: