The national media backlash against Tesco may be gathering pace, but that doesn’t mean shoppers are falling out of love with it. Or does it, asks Liz Hamson

There’s a thin line between love and hate and, as far as consumer attitudes towards Tesco go, that line has become thinner than ever. Almost one in three UK shoppers (32%) now think that Tesco has become too powerful, according to a survey of more than 2,000 people carried out for The Grocer.
The figure marks a sharp uplift from the one in five who said the same when Harris Interactive first conducted the online survey in January. So does it mean that the much-hyped consumer backlash is finally here?
Not necessarily. While almost one in five (19%) shoppers confess that they have become more negative towards the retailer, their behaviour tells a very different story.
More than one in three (35%) say they have spent more this year than last at Tesco, representing an increase on six months ago, when the figure stood at 30%.
A greater number also admit that they prefer to shop at Tesco than any other supermarket, particularly for non-food items. Indeed, 44% rate Tesco best of the supermarkets for non-food, compared with 37% six months ago. And almost one in four (24%) would choose Tesco over a traditional retailer for large electrical goods.
Health is another area in which Tesco seems to be winning. Where six months ago, one in five shoppers said they thought its healthy food offer was better than other supermarkets, in the latest survey that figure has risen to one in four.
However, while shopper behaviour does not yet seem to have been affected, it would be shortsighted to dismiss the rise in negative sentiment. Ominously for Tesco, it is tracking the increase in spend - as if the more reliant shoppers become on Tesco, the more wary and resentful they are.
Even more worrying is the fact that it is not just shoppers in general who are taking against the retailer - 28% of its own shoppers also feel that it has become too powerful, up dramatically on the 17% who felt that way six months ago. Add to the mix a national media intent on stoking the fire - and the prospect of negative sentiment translating into negative consumer behaviour may not be so farfetched.
Harris Interactive senior researcher Caroline North warns: “Consumers still look on Tesco in a positive light, but there are some areas where Tesco needs to be wary that negative perceptions don’t cloud what is currently a very good story for them. While shoppers still want cheap food at low prices, they are beginning to appreciate the whole grocery landscape. Tesco needs to realise that shoppers are becoming more aware.”

Backlash? What backlash?

Have you bought anything in Tesco in the past month? (%)
Yes 77No 22Not sure 1

Would you say you have spent more this year than last at Tesco? (%)
More 35Less 20Same 44Not sure 1

Compared with rivals, how would you rate Tesco for:
Choice/range (%)
Better 46Same 42Worse 8Not sure 4
Quality (%)
Better 30Same 59Worse 8Not sure 3
Value for money (%)
Better 46Same 41Worse 9Not sure 4
Taste (%)
Better 23Same 65Worse 7Not sure 6
Health attributes (%)
Better 25Same 64Worse 4Not sure 8
Presentation/appeal (%)
Better 29Same 56Worse 11Not sure 3
Food (%)
Better 36Same 55Worse 7Not sure 3
Non food (%)
Better 44Same 38Worse 7Not sure 10
Convenience (%)
Better 43Same 45Worse 10Not sure 2

Which, if any, of the following statements sum up your attitude towards Tesco? (%)
It sells good quality food at low prices48
It’s a great British institution33
It has become too powerful and is killing off competition and choice32
I only shop there as I don’t have any other choice9
It sells poor-quality food4
None of these19

Overall, which of the following statements about Tesco do you agree with most? (%)
Shopping there is better than shopping at any other supermarket56
Shopping there is just like shopping at any other supermarket25
Shopping there is worse than shopping at any other supermarket7
None of these8

How has your attitude towards Tesco changed over recent months? (%)
It’s become more positive17
It’s become more negative19
It’s stayed the same64
Harris Interactive surveyed 2,168 adults between September 22 and 27, using the Harris Poll Global Omnibus. For further information, contact the Harris Poll Omnibus hotline on 020 8263 5382