As details of the latest corporate shenanigans in the retail market came across my desk this week, I somehow found myself humming Games without frontiers' ­ that catchy Peter Gabriel number from 1980. I couldn't help myself. It just popped into mind as I pondered the way in which traditional boundaries continue to blur as retailers look to move their businesses forward.
We have seen the Co-operative Group completely reinvent itself as a neighbourhood operator in recent years and, as this week's acquisition of Balfour confirms, it is now confident enough to take on and run small CTNs as well as c-stores. In a similar vein, we have Somerfield trying, yet again, to define the role it should play on the high street with a strategy focused on the opportunity for a convenience offer based on fresh foods. Here, too, is a retailer keen to develop new business models ­ such as forecourt retailing and franchise operations. Then there's Sainsbury's tie-up with Shell and Tesco's acquisition of T&S Stores. Or what about the recent decision by Asda to take its George clothing brand onto the high street with a trial of standalone stores?
Wherever you turn you will find retailers stretching the frontiers of grocery in ways that would have been completely unimaginable to the trade 20 years or so ago when Peter Gabriel recorded his little pop ditty.
But, unlike the games played out in that song, the war now raging in the grocery sector will not be without tears. There will be plenty of casualties and lots of collateral damage too.
And as Bill Grimsey, boss of the Big Food Group, argues in this week's Saturday Essay, there is every chance that the biggest casualties will come from the independent sector ­ unless those investigating the Safeway auction take a proper look at how major structural change among the multiples will impact the entire sector, not just the segment for one stop shopping.
It's far too late to stop the big boys crossing new frontiers or blurring the boundaries between different shopping missions. Nor should we try ­ this is, after all, a free market. But for the Competition Commission to ignore the fact it is happening would be utterly absurd.