Customers opt for shops' discount prices

Jonathan Foster and John Arlidge investigate how carton undercuts bottle in hatchback-to-refrigerator shopping
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The Independent Online
Customers at Morrison's store in Wakefield, West Yorkshire, yesterday were faced with a bewildering variety of dairy products. They could buy goat's or cow's milk, long life or sterilised, full or half-fat and any number of others, most at low prices that will mean redundancies at the nearby Northern Foods bottling plant.

A four-pint container of pasteurised costs 87p, 40 per cent less than the doorstep price of a pint charged by milkmen supplied by Northern Foods.

While the Wakefield dairy is a leading supplier of the 1,700 delivery rounds in the North and Midlands, the supermarkets get their milk from Northern Foods plants in Leicestershire, London and Manchester, which use cartons instead of the more labour-intensive bottles used for doorstep delivery.

The effects of changes were not lost on Wakefield's shoppers yesterday. Whether shifting bulky litres or taking a pint of Guernsey-Jersey, the reason for buying from a supermarket was price.

Ann Smith and Deborah Whiteley who took 16 litres through the checkout, citing young families eating cereals for the volume of consumption.

"It can make a difference of £2 or £3 a week," Ms Smith said. "If we need any extra, I can get it from the petrol station shop any time of day or night." It is a pattern of one-stop, hatchback-to-refrigerator shopping familiar to David Salkeld, managing director of Northern Foods dairies division.

"In 1990, about 60 per cent of milk was delivered to the doorstep. It has declined to about 45 per cent now and is forecast to be 25-30 per cent by 1997."

The decline in doorstep deliveries has been so dramatic in Scotland that the service is now almost extinct. Figures released yesterday by the Scottish Dairy Trade Federation reveal that the figure in Scotland is just 20 per cent. In parts of the big cities the service has disappeared Industry observers point to housing styles and shopping patterns.

The traditional tenement blocks in Scottish cities have discouraged home deliveries, they say, and in the 1970s when they were introduced, supermarkets grew faster in Scotland than in England and Wales. "Lifestyles have changed," Mr Salkeld said. "Double income, no kids households are less likely to want doorstep delivery. The biggest change has been the decline in the number of people who used to buy milk from supermarkets and also had a doorstep delivery.

But there is a core of people who are not drifting to the supermarkets. Gwen Zaman, loading her Morrison's shopping into the car, had not bought any milk.

"It's just nice to have the doorstep delivery, it's a thing that typical of life in England," she said. "He's never let us down in any weather, and we're giving somebody a job."