Minister must explain what is going on with test purchasing


A private conversation with one of the country’s top retailers this week gave me a real sense of just how frustrated and angry all of you now are at what is happening with so-called test purchasing.

As we have said repeatedly in this column, nobody has a problem working with government to enforce the law and drive out rogue traders. But we have a massive problem with the way in which this government is setting out, with the connivance of the police, local authorities and trading standards, to entrap retailers.

Why are they doing it? Simple: you are a soft target; entrapping you creates great headlines in newspapers; and it shows the government is doing something to tackle the country’s binge-drinking problems (because, as with the food and health debate, the real solutions are complex and take a long time to work).

We have this week demanded that Home Office minister Hazel Blears explains to readers of The Grocer what is happening and to defend the government’s position. We look forward to her response.

In the meantime, why not let us know when you have been targeted by test-purchasing squads and have sent them packing.That way, we can not only name and praise the retailers doing a great job out there - we can also highlight the underhand practices of the authorities.

Just days after I voiced my concerns in this column about the long-term sustainability of the British grocery sector comes the news that Golden Wonder has gone bust and sweets firm Leaf is to offshore its production.

Clearly, these are very different stories. But whatever the reasons behind them, the outcomes are similar: factories are closing and more jobs are being lost.

As our inflation tracker shows on page five, retailers and suppliers are under incredible pressure to keep prices down, despite soaring energy prices. The price paid for a basket of 100 staple grocery items is still 1.2% cheaper than this time last year. Incredible.

Against that sort of backdrop, I can’t help but worry about what this year has in store for us - even if the Golden Wonder story may have a happier ending.
C’mon hazel, defend this
and so it begins...