Magazine article The Spectator

How Tesco Makes Its Millions

Magazine article The Spectator

How Tesco Makes Its Millions

Article excerpt

Shaftesbury, a small market town in north Dorset, has a very upbeat, prosperous feel about it. A new bakery has just opened, and across the road from the bakery there is a specialist selling good cheeses and cured meats. The town is home to a wonderful fruit and vegetable store, a mill selling flour lies on the outskirts, and a farm shop selling home-produced meat is a few miles away.

Shaftesbury is thriving, and because of this there's now a sign on the ring road announcing the arrival of a new superstore. One supermarket or another has been trying to build on the outskirts of the town for ages, but until recently the people of Shaftesbury resisted - they don't have an appetite for supermarket food, nor do the small shopkeepers who will have their livelihoods wrecked. But despite a furious debate in the local press, in the end Tesco won, and the construction of its superstore continues apace. It will be the usual sort of thing: aisles and aisles of processed food, a couple of fresh vegetables and some meat, a 'fresh' fish counter, some cut flowers from Kenya.

I, like the Shaftesbury locals, was against the supermarket from the start. My instinct told me that vegetables that have travelled for hundreds of miles won't be as fresh as market food and that the meat won't taste as good. But for once I decided to give Tesco the benefit of the doubt. Perhaps Shaftesbury might at least benefit from the two great claims made by Tesco - its unbeatable prices and the convenience of supermarket shopping. Ask anyone why they shop at Tesco and they'll give you the same answer. The food is inexpensive and the shopping speedy. 'I haven't got time to go to all those different local shops,' they say. 'The parking is so easy at Tesco and they can afford to keep prices low.' I decided to investigate.

The same superstore arrived in another nearby market town, Blandford, some years ago, so the other Saturday at 11 a.m. I left home and drove to Blandford. I parked easily in the high street, which has a restriction of half-an-hour per stay, and sauntered down to the market square to see Pete, the fruit and veg man. His stall was positively groaning under the weight of loose-sold fruit and veg, free of the packaging that Tesco is so keen on. There were English asparagus, beetroots pulled out of the ground with mud on, carrots with stalks, Jerusalem artichokes, radishes, strawberries, peas in the pod, new potatoes, fresh figs and so on.

I purchased the following: 1lb of cherry tomatoes, two Cos lettuce, five beetroot with stalks, ten carrots with stalks, one squash, one bunch radishes, 1lb peas in the pod, six fresh figs, three heads of broccoli, one cucumber, ten oranges, three limes, three lemons, 1lb of red seedless grapes, 18 green apples, three avocados, two punnets of English strawberries and four bunches of English asparagus. My bill for that lot was exactly £20. I stopped off at the baker in the high street and spent £2.75 on a loaf of bread, a French stick and four doughnuts. Then off to the farm shop in nearby Tarrant Gunville, where I spent £19.43 buying cheese, 4oz trout pâté, one free-range chicken, some free-range bacon, two pork chops, two chicken legs and one piece of frying steak. Started last October, the shop sells animals (quite literally) out of their fields, so you can see the chickens, ducks, sheep, pigs and cows. The quality is superb, the meat is butchered in front of you and the shop is a thriving new enterprise. …

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