Food for thought: Head to head: Should you do your shopping at supermarkets? Yes, if you've any sense, says Ann Grain. No, if you care about food and the environment, says Hugh Raven

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Pro-supermarket

"Supermarkets are responding to what the consumer wants - they're busy people, they want convenience, they want to do a big shop at a price they can afford, and they want to do it quickly. You could spend the whole of your Saturday going from butchers to greengrocers to bakers, etc. If that's what you want to do, fine. Supermarkets are so popular because that's not what most people want to do. At the moment there's no viable alternative to supermarket shopping, and whilst we're not against one, we have to be sensible and respond to consumers' demands now.

Most supermarkets offer a mixture of locally sourced and overseas produce, and this is what we need - a balance. If we don't source worldwide we'd go back to the 1950s and 1960s, when you only got certain varieties at certain times of the year, and kids grew up thinking that fruit only meant oranges. Often, local suppliers are unable to provide the quantities that are needed, so although the supermarket may want to source from them, they can't. The ordering system used nowadays is much more refined than in the past, which has enabled stores to reduce the number of lorries going from the depot to the shop. It's absolute bunkum to say that traffic- increase is the responsibility of supermarkets.

No one denies the fact that life has got harder for the smaller retailer, but the whole point of competition is that you compete. Smaller stores can, and should, be offering all sorts of other services and products that the larger stores can't - they need to be innovative. British supermarkets are not monopolies. Consumers here have a huge amount of choice, they can go to Tesco, or Sainsbury's, or Asda etc. In other European countries you don't have this choice, or have prices that you'd want to buy at. I suggest people go and look at what happens in other parts of the world - quite frankly, British consumers don't know they're born."

Ann Grain is director of external affairs at the British Retail Consortium, which represents retailers

Anti-supermarket

"Supermarkets are convenient? Only providing you ignore a number of things. Such as the fact that your children can no longer walk to school because of the traffic on our roads. Supermarkets are enormously, disproportionately responsible for a massive increase in car and freight travel. The distance our food has travelled has increased by 50 per cent over the last 15 years. And, as a consequence of supermarkets now sourcing their produce globally, air-freighted food delivery has rocketed. So if you mind about road-building, congestion and pollution, shop elsewhere.

I also suspect you mind the loss of traditional countryside and the loss of variety within British food. Yes, supermarkets can offer you variety within the store because the world is now their market, but the amount of diversity within Britain has plummeted. There are 2,000 varieties of apple in Britain, but how many can you find in a supermarket? About nine. They have become monopolistic buyers of agricultural produce. They dictate what is grown, and when. They will claim they aren't monopolists because individually they don't have the 25 per cent of the national market that would make them officially so. But shopping is a local activity, so Sainsbury's is effectively a monopoly if all the stores in your area are Sainsbury's.

I'm sure you also mind the decline of our town centres, and that even if you want to be environmentally responsible citizens, you can't. We now have little choice but to get in our cars and go shopping. The effective monopolisation of supermarkets and their predatory pricing has destroyed the traditional retail economy and helped to create so-called `food deserts'. Consequently, the socially disadvantaged now have less access to an affordable and nutritious diet, because it's not profitable for supermarkets to remain or enter into those areas dominated by poor consumers."

Hugh Raven is a government advisor and co-author of `Off Our Trolleys?' (Institute for Public Policy Research, 0171-470 6100)

Interviews by Fiona McClymont

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