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


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.

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