Hurry up, Harry, we're going down the grocers

As pubs give way to supermarkets, is it a case of adapt or call time, asks James Thompson

The local pub has long been the place where people drink, eat, watch sport, meet their long-term (or immediate) partners and even get into bar-room brawls.

But these days the British are almost as likely to bump into neighbours at the grocery store as they are at their local.

This is because Tesco is understood to have converted up to 160 former boozers into supermarkets, amid an alarmingly fast rate of pub closures during the economic downturn.

Tesco accounted for 119 of the 199 pubs converted over the three years to December, according to the Campaign for Real Ale (Camra).

However, as this data excludes the North East and only provides a snapshot of the last decade, the true figure on conversions is likely to be much higher.

And Tesco is not alone, as the likes of Sainsbury's, Aldi, Co-op and Costcutter have also turned failed pubs into food stores. They are attracted to sites that often have car parks and are located at the heart of communities.

This land grab has got the pub industry hot under the collar at a time when 26 locals a week are closing, equal to 1,352 a year, according to Camra.

Mike Benner, Camra's chief executive, said: "Weak and misguided planning laws and the predatory acquisition of valued pub sites by large supermarket chains, coupled with the willingness of pub owners to cash in and sell for development, are some of the biggest threats to the future of Britain's social fabric.

"For years, large supermarket chains have shown a disregard for the well-being of local communities, gutting much-loved former pubs in areas already well served by supermarket stores."

He added: "Pubs are being targeted for development by supermarket chains due to gaps in planning controls, allowing supermarkets to ride roughshod over the wishes of the local community."

This, though, is an argument that irks the big supermarkets.

The grocers argue that they are not responsible for the growing reluctance of customers to pay £4 a pint or more at their local boozer – pricing levels that the beer industry has repeatedly blamed on the Government's punitive alcohol taxes – as the British increasingly opt to entertain at home.

The supermarkets also typically take closed or empty former pubs, which can become a magnet for drug addicts, criminals or fly-tippers.

Scott Annan, a retail consultant at Blue Ananta, said: "In my experience, supermarkets are not buying thriving pubs – such as The George IV in Chiswick [west London ]. They are taking redundant pubs that have ceased to be viable.

"Consumers' demand for shopping at convenience stores is growing enormously and at a much faster rate than other areas of the grocery sector," he added.

"We all need to eat and drink but do not want or need to go to a good or a bad pub. If a supermarket can take these redundant properties at the heart of local communities and turn them into something that people want, then that has to be a good thing."

The supermarkets also point to the jobs they create in local communities by acquiring former pubs.

A Tesco spokesman said: "By helping to find a use for a small proportion of those buildings [ex-pubs], we are part of the solution for communities – not the problem."

Furthermore, the supermarkets argue, the cash machines they provide also help to pump money into other local shops at a time when many banks are withdrawing from the high street.

Like those shops, pubs are having to reinvent themselves – by sprucing up their interiors, for example, or serving coffee and food – in order to remain relevant.

For those that don't, The Good Pub Guide 2014 warned this week that between 2,500 and 4,000 pubs could close over the next 12 months, adding that for some it is "high time they closed their doors".

Alisdair Aird, the Guide's co-editor, said: "Pubs have got to diversify if they want to succeed – they can't just open for lunch and open again in the evening any more."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooksNow available in paperback
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Sheridan Maine: Regulatory Reporting Accountant

Up to £65,000 per annum + benefits: Sheridan Maine: Are you a qualified accoun...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Services Manager - (communications, testing, DM)

£32000 - £35000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Services Manage...

Guru Careers: Finance Account Manager

£Neg. (DOE) + Excellent Benefits: Guru Careers: A Finance Account Manager with...

Ashdown Group: Java Developer - Hertfordshire - £47,000 + bonus + benefits

£40000 - £470000 per annum + bonus: Ashdown Group: Java Developer / J2EE Devel...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

How podcasts became mainstream

People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

Christmas cocktails to make you merry

Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

Paul Scholes column

It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas