We’re spending less on food – and perhaps, at last, catching up with the US

We shouldn't be made to feel guilty for not buying our veg from grocers

Share

My name is Mira and I do not shop – have never knowingly shopped, in fact – at Waitrose. There, I’ve said it. There is also a M&S food hall a short walk from my house, which I only enter on special occasions.

And yet I eat, and well, by frequenting the main supermarkets and – yes – the discount ones too.

So, upon learning that the amount Britons spend on food has dropped for the first time since at least 2008 as a supermarket “price war” drives down bills, I rejoiced. Finding that Philip Clarke, Tesco chief executive, said first-quarter trading at Britain’s biggest retailer was the worst he had seen in his four-decade career at the company made me even happier. Especially when I also discovered that the big food retailers were all cutting their profits to attract more shoppers to their aisles.

Having lived in the USA, where countless highly competitive supermarket chains battle with food warehouses on both quality and price, I was shocked to find an England dominated since the 1970s by a small handful of supermarket brands who seemed to be running what I considered to be a virtual cartel, and expecting profit margins several times higher than the 1.5 per cent their American counterparts were operating on.

I have always bought Thai rice (the best there is) and noodles in the no-frills Chinese cash-and-carry. Then the so-called “discounters” arrived, and Lidl became my first port of call (there is still no Aldi in my area, hint hint!). Over the years I have noted that, firstly, the kind of people I find shopping at Lidl has definitely risen to middle-middle class, and secondly, that supermarkets within 500 yards of a Lidl have tended to reduce their prices to match. Especially Asda, a Walmart company, which understands the meaning of the word “competition” and the wisdom of “turnover trumps profit margins”. Thirdly the big boys have upped their game, producing special ranges of higher quality at only slightly greater expense.

I was therefore pleased to see that The One Show’s food critic Jay Rayner has turned his back on farmers’ markets and overpriced “special” foodstuffs and is backing the supermarkets we love to hate.

Tellingly, he said this in an interview for Cotswold Life magazine, where it is unlikely to be read by people worried about feeding their families. But the words will strike a chord with people in places like Tower Hamlets and Toxteth who don’t want to be made to feel guilty for not buying their veg from grocers.

It’s not that I have anything against farmers’ markets. If you live in a city and have small children, a visit to such a market may be useful to remind them that vegetables grow in soil, not shelves – much like a visit to a City Farm to see real animals alive before they arrive on their plates. Buying from these pop-ups is fine, and if you cannot mentally compare the price with your local Sainsbury’s then you probably don’t need to.

But it is a well known fact that food takes up a bigger proportion of the spending of poor people, mainly because they have so much less to spend on other things. So lower prices in accessible supermarkets with ample parking is an essential lifeline for – dare I say it – “hard-working families” on low wages and beyond. The country is full of them and the last thing they need is to be patronised by the likes of the heir to the throne and Pat Archer.

What they may need, however, is a new free app, DinnerTime , which promises to make sure your kids sit down and eat, whether it is Grand National lasagne or an organic, free-range, hand-knitted nut roast. After warning them of how long to dinner, the app will then lock their phones for the duration.

Now that’s what I call a really good idea.

I won’t be mourning the black cab’s demise

It would take a heart of stone not to feel for London’s black cab drivers, who are bringing Trafalgar Square to a halt this afternoon in protest against a taxi app which threatens their livelihoods.

Transport for London has decided to grant web firm Uber a private hire licence. This means private drivers can be legally summoned using the now-ubiquitous smartphone app. The fare is calculated by distance and time, making taxi-meters obsolete, while the route is dictated by Uber, making The Knowledge also obsolete.

As someone who would normally fight to saves London’s heritage, I would love to say that I hope the black cabbies win. But I am haunted by the ghost of Ned Ludd who allegedly smashed two spinning frames in 1779, and became a byword for those who would turn time back.

So, cabbies, as you organise your protest via social media on smartphones, spare a thought for Mr Ludd.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Employment Solicitor

Highly Competitive Salary: Austen Lloyd: MANCHESTER - Senior Employment Solici...

Senior Risk Manager - Banking - London - £650

£600 - £650 per day: Orgtel: Conduct Risk Liaison Manager - Banking - London -...

Commercial Litigation Associate

Highly Attractive Package: Austen Lloyd: CITY - COMMERCIAL LITIGATION - GLOBAL...

Systems Manager - Dynamics AX

£65000 - £75000 per annum + Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: The client is a...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Opponents of Israel's military operation in Gaza are the real enemies of Middle Eastern peace

Gabriel Sassoon
The economy expanded by 0.8 per cent in the second quarter of 2014  

Government hails latest GDP figures, but there is still room for scepticism over this 'glorious recovery'

Ben Chu
Evan Davis: The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing to take over at Newsnight

The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing

What will Evan Davis be like on Newsnight?
Finding the names for America’s shame: What happens to the immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert?

Finding the names for America’s shame

The immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert
Inside a church for Born Again Christians: Speaking to God in a Manchester multiplex

Inside a church for Born Again Christians

As Britain's Anglican church struggles to establish its modern identity, one branch of Christianity is booming
Rihanna, Kim Kardashian and me: How Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

Parisian couturier Pierre Balmain made his name dressing the mid-century jet set. Today, Olivier Rousteing – heir to the house Pierre built – is celebrating their 21st-century equivalents. The result? Nothing short of Balmania
Cancer, cardiac arrest, HIV and homelessness - and he's only 39

Incredible survival story of David Tovey

Tovey went from cooking for the Queen to rifling through bins for his supper. His is a startling story of endurance against the odds – and of a social safety net failing at every turn
Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
10 best reed diffusers

Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little