New Internationalist

Sold Out: The true cost of supermarket shopping

Issue 373

It is widely acknowledged that the major supermarket chains in Europe and North America take advantage of their huge buying power to put the squeeze on their suppliers, forcing them to drop their prices and in so doing threatening the long-term viability of many family-run farms and small food manufacturers. Until I read Sold Out: the true cost of supermarket shopping I did not know exactly how. The book reiterates much that is known about the super/hypermarkets that increasingly dominate the world of food retailing in Europe, North America and, now, parts of Asia – environmental damage, exploitative labour practices, and so on. What held my attention was Young’s discussion of two recent investigations by the UK Government’s Competition Commission into the specific methods used. For example, supermarkets sometimes demand financial compensation from suppliers if sales of particular products are lower than expected. They have been known to request that suppliers help pay for the construction of new shops and the refurbishment of existing ones. Supermarkets have also lowered the price of products and then expected suppliers to ‘fund’ this price promotion. The list goes on and, amazingly, many of these practices are legal. The Commission’s findings paint a picture of supermarkets succeeding financially thanks in large part to the subsidies and sacrifices they extract from suppliers. Young focuses primarily on the UK, although he also includes information on many of the European supermarket chains, including Carrefour, and how they are moving into Asia. The world’s largest retailer, Wal-Mart, is also discussed.

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