Typical. The publication of the report 'The Return of Rip-off Britain' last week generated reams of coverage in the nationals. But the stories were not about the rail tickets, computer games consoles, furniture and eating out in London that Joe Public is "paying through the nose for", according to the authors, two leading economists from the Royal Bank of Scotland.
No. Instead commentators decided to pick up on the relative increase in the price of food and take the opportunity to attack grocers again. The original Rip-Off campaign was triggered by the disparity in car prices a decade ago and swiftly spread to a campaign for lower food prices. How ironic, yet predictable, that having steadily lowered prices ever since, the grocers stand accused once more of ripping off consumers.
The headlines and articles do a massive disservice to the industry. There may be a host of valid explanations for the disparity in the rise in food prices - not least rising energy prices and poor harvests. But that doesn't make good copy.
The plain truth is that the big grocers can't win: on one hand they are accused of being too profitable and on the other they are accused of abusing their scale. The argument seems to be that they are ripping consumers off while killing our high streets, destroying food manufacturing and destabilising the farming base.
By not paying enough for their goods, small producers are forced out of business. Ditto small retailers that can't match their bigger rivals on price. The reality is quite different - the big grocers have contributed
enormously to the British economy.
The Asda/Wal-Mart versus Tesco price battle has brought ever greater value and choice to customers, as has the focus on multi-tier own-branding. And that's just on the grocery front. The prices of everything from toasters to TVs has plummeted thanks to the development of scale and authority in non-foods. This has led to falling household bills and also forced high street retailers to raise their game.
With the internet making consumers more focused on price, it's hard to be uncompetitive. British customers are better served by their retail base than almost anywhere else. I wish the grocers were given due
recognition for their part.n
Former Safeway director Jack Sinclair is development director at SB Capital Group and director of McCurrach