Tesco vs Sherborne – can the big guy afford to blink?

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Extended version of my story  “Tesco, not in our backyard”,  published in the Times 19 March 2013.  Comments below.

The lady from Tesco is having a horrible day. She’s driven from Bristol – leaving a sick toddler behind – to the little Dorset town of Sherborne where, frankly, almost everybody hates her. Her job is to sell the idea of a new Tesco store to a community that doesn’t want it, at a time when Tesco – according to a recent Which? magazine-  is by far the most unpopular supermarket in Britain. And the survey was done was before horseburgergate.

They don’t look aggressive, the townsfolk who’ve marched up the famously charming high street to Digby Hall, where Tesco is staging a presentation, “Investing in Sherborne”. There’s a preponderance of tweed and country jacket green; some dreadlocks but more trim hair-dos. The protest posters are decorous against the honey-coloured stone – there’s a “No Thanks Tesco” made of buttons and embroidery in Tesco colours. The rudest slogan asks the supermarket chain to “burger off”. “It’s just like Les Miserables,” someone laughs – but it is actually a very English affair.

There is a TV crew and local celebrities: Valerie Singleton, journalist, once of Blue Peter, and Canon Eric Woods, vicar of Sherborne Abbey. He is impressive in red-buttoned, ankle-length black robes. He says that Tesco is just wrong for a town like Sherborne, and won’t do any good. “You’d be amazed at this stereotype of supermarkets being cheaper. It’s just not true. Our local butcher is cheaper: I should know, on a parson’s stipend you have got to be canny.” Most of the attention goes to the anti-Tesco pony, a live one, led by a former BBC journalist.

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Making £50 a week taste better

Alex goes supermarket shopping on £50 a week

After I tried to feed my family on Sainsbury’s menu, I appealed to Times readers for better ideas

7th July 2011

The Times

Two months ago, Sainsbury’s launched a “value” marketing drive, with TV and press campaigns, promising to feed recession-hit families for just £50 a week. The first menu was depressing with its pseudo-bargains, unlikely extravagances (a £5 bunch of grapes) and lots of tinned and frozen food. These included some sausages at 10p each: beige and tasteless, just 45 per cent pork, they were the most revolting things that have ever been in my frying pan.

All this was mocked on these pages and elsewhere, especially when the company was pushed to admit that in nutritional terms the menu would in fact provide only 85 per cent of what a family would need. Unsurprisingly, the promotion has now disappeared from Sainsbury’s stores and website.

“Marketing froth” was one trade analyst’s verdict: that rang true in this house. When I tried to send my kids off to school on the budget breakfast of toast and jam, they were as appalled as if I’d attempted to ban the TV. What is wrong with porridge, many of you asked.

Read the rest here via Times Online

Can you feed your family on £50 a week?

Alex Renton feeding his daughter and family for £50

May 19th 2011, The Times

Sainsbury’s believes you can, but when Alex Renton took up the challenge, he found his household of foodies and fussy eaters had serious misgivings.

Eighty-four meals, £50, one happy family, say the new Sainsbury’s adverts. They promise to feed a family of four for seven days for less than the price of a tank of petrol: “No really, it’s possible — we know because we’ve done the maths.” If they’d done that, I thought, we really should do the experiment. My happy family of four is very bad at doing the maths — we don’t have much of a clue what we spend on food even though we suffer the usual shrinking-income fears of the times. Feed each of us for £1.79 a day? I went straight down to Sainsbury’s.

Find the full article here on Times Online (in front of the paywall).