Britain’s declaration of war on 4 August 1914 was discussed in measured tones by The Grocer’s editorial of the following issue, 8 August 1914, reproduced here in full.
“State control of price”
The measures which the Government have taken to safeguard the supply and to ensure the proper distribution of the nation’s food during the continuance of the war in which Britain is now engaged will bring much relief to the trade as well as to the general public. The decision of the Cabinet Committee on Food Supplies, after consultation with the General Trade Committee – upon which the Grocers’ Federation is represented – to issue maximum retail prices which ought not to be exceeded for certain staple articles of food, is an important step. The prices, which are quoted on page 318 will meet with some criticism; for which the Committee are no doubt fully prepared. But those who criticise must realise the enormous difficulty of bringing into one line competitors who ﬁght each other very ﬁercely, but who, in the presence of a national crisis such as the present, have consented to come together on neutral ground for the common weal. At the moment, perhaps, the chief difficulties are to obtain supplies and to ﬁnd the money wherewith to pay for them. With the re-opening of the banks yesterday (Friday) a more cheerful tone and an easier condition of things began and there is little doubt that as the days go by the panic which has been manifest during this week will disappear.
“There has been remarkable unanimity on the part of traders throughout the country in striving to allay fears of a famine”
It is much to the good that the Government have sought the aid of prominent men in the trade for the proper organisation of the food supply. We are not at liberty to give any names, but we have the best authority for saying that the General Trade Committee represents some of the greatest concerns in the country. The committee have consented to meet periodically in order to frame prices for the purpose of allaying the public anxiety and of preventing a recurrence of the selﬁsh and unpatriotic action of many of the well-to-do class—to their lasting shame be it said – in attempting to lay in stores in excess of their immediate requirements. Repeated assurance from ofﬁcial sources that the food supply was in no way endangered had no good effect on the fevered minds of those whose wealth enabled them to get additional supplies at any cost, with the result that poor people were on the point of desperation, and in at least two places – Southwark and Hitchin – some disturbance took place. The position of retailers has been a most unhappy one. Bombarded with large orders, yet unable to secure the goods with which to ﬁll them, the temptation to unpatriotic money-making on the stock in hand was ever present, but it is pleasing to know that, except a small minority, grocers did not charge extortionate prices, and that in countless cases orders for more than normal supplies, even to regular customers, were refused. There has been remarkable unanimity on the part of traders throughout the country in striving to allay fears of a famine, a work in which much valuable support has been given to municipal authorities. To all such honour is due. Our pages to-day bear eloquent testimony to fact that there has been no more united and prompt action taken in any trade than has been taken by the grocer. The leaders of the various grocers’ associations have called their colleagues together, and in wise counsels have suggested the course to be pursued. It would be invidious to single out any particular case, where many have acted so energetically, and it must be of undoubted assistance alike to the Government and the nation that the food distributors, so far as the trades we represent are concerned, have acted so promptly. At the head of these may fairly be put the Grocers’ Federation, and it is a testimony to that organisation that the Government called upon them for assistance, only to ﬁnd that the ﬁrst steps had already been taken towards the desired end.
We write this in the midst of reassuring circumstances. It is eminently satisfactory that the retail trade has formed a General Trade Committee, dealing not merely with such questions as prices, but also with such subjects as actual stocks, the prospects of future supplies and the methods for distributing them. The committee will also be capable of voicing the needs of the retail trade to the Government Committee on many other subjects, such as the supply of horses for the Government, questions raised by withdrawal of employees as Territorials, and facilities for transport of goods.