Thursday, 11 October 2012
Joanna Blythman, Shopped
Do you like shopping in supermarkets? Joanna Blythman doesn't. Neither do I, so I was looking forward to read Shopped - The Shocking Power of Britain's Supermarkets.
Well, I have read it. The book is ok, but I expected more.
Blythman starts Shopped on a personal note, confessing her own dissatisfaction with supermarket fare. The food is bland and unhealthy, there's no real choice and the shopping experience itself is more like a nightmare than like a dream. Fair enough, I agree totally. She goes on to discuss all sorts of problems that the rise of supermarkets may have caused - visual impact, environmental damage (all those cars and plastic packaging), sad work conditions of shelf stackers and till operators, manipulative advertising etc., although none of those issues is explored in particular detail.
Blythman's main concern seems to be the decline of independent, small scale retailers. Minor producers are not able to compete on price and go out of business one by one. Their experience, care and passion go, too.
According to Shopped, being a supermarket supplier is not a piece of cake either. She claims producers are hard pressed to supply ever more, for the same or lower prices and woe is you if you happen to be late. There are extra charges for promotions, samplings etc. Products are often rejected for dubious reasons or delisted on short notice, with all the financial consequences falling onto the supplier. Obviously, no supermarket chain would admit as much. Fair is fair, Blythman gave them some space to express their point of view, but it's obvious that she did it only for propriety's sake.
I would love to live in a world where we could all afford to pay best (=highest) prices for the best product. Unfortunately, this is not the case. If we can't pay for the best, we buy the not-so-great and second rate is better than nothing.
I wouldn't be so blindly enthusiastic about 'small' producers either. 'Small' doesn't necessary mean 'best', not where I live. If you want the very best food, grow your own. Otherwise, you're depending on people who produce food for profit, not for your benefit, whatever size their business happens to be.
My dislike of supermarkets springs from entirely different source and maybe that is why I found Shopped disappointing. I did pick up some useful information from it nevertheless. If you're no friend of supermarket culture, give the book a try. After all, you might be more sympathetic to Blythman's views than to mine.