Has anyone else noticed how little true diversity there is in our supermarkets?
We have a staggering amount of food for sale, but most of it comes from the same, few manufacturers. And the bigger the supermarket chain, the fewer the actual brands they carry.
Now I understand that supermarkets are businesses, and to succeed they have to give customers the products they want, but why do we have to have half a mile of breakfast cereal all starting with a ‘K’? Or soups all starting with… nevermind.
Now contrast that first photo with this one :
This is a supermarket in Iringa, Africa. The thing that struck me was the lack of blinding patterns on the shelves. Yes, it is a very, very small supermarket, and you or I would probably not find what we wanted on those shelves, but you must admit the produce has variety!
I personally do most of my shopping at the smaller supermarkets, like IGA, [Independent Grocers Association] because :
a. The fresh produce, including meat, is fresher, and so I waste less food [and money],
b. The smaller supermarkets actually have far more choice in terms of grocery products. For example I can buy Jalna sour cream at IGA. I can’t buy it ‘S…way’.
c. If I ask my local IGA to bring in a product for me, 9/10 they will.
The times when I do go to the Big Two supermarkets it’s usually to stock up on cheap items like toilet paper, or a particular brand of cat food.
So what’s going on? Are the Big Two supermarkets doing what bookstores do, and selling premium shelf space to the highest bidder? [You did know bookstores did that, right? That’s why bestsellers are shown with the cover out, or on tables, or in the front window. Or maybe that’s how they become bestsellers – by being so visible].
Anyway, my point is that those miles and miles of one brand items do more than just restrict the choices available to consumers, they restrict competition as well. And competition is the cornerstone of Capitalism. The instant you allow a few players to monopolize supply and demand, you are undermining the whole capitalist system.
We can see the effects all over the world as capitalism mutates into corporatism. However, nowhere is it more in your face than with food. Food, like air, is a basic commodity that no one can do without, yet if you look at the supply chain you will see that a few ginormous multinational companies control most of the seeds used in agriculture. That translates into food production.
That raw food is then taken, and manufactured by a few more multinationals, who then sell it to other corporations who control food distribution – i.e. supermarkets. And the end result is lots of ‘stuff’ that is all basically the same.
If you walk down the aisles of your local supermarket you will see a Who’s Who of the biggest companies on earth. And we put them there.
We could change this status quo by not buying certain brands, but how realistic is that when we have so little real choice about what to buy?
In many ways, this lack of choice is the direct result of killing off the small deli’s, the small greengrocers, and the small butcher shops of yesteryear. Those small businesses epitomized what Capitalism was meant to be. But of course, whenever you have competition there is the expectation that someone will ‘win’, and the corporates have won.
R.I.P. consumer choice. 😦