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PUTTING THE PRESSURE ON SUPERMARKETS

30 Jun 2021 3:28 PM | Anonymous

“The evidence is now unambiguous. Including fish/seafood each week in your diet is an excellent advantage to health and longevity”.

This should be the main marketing/selling aspect for the seafood industry. It is plain and simple and its global. Yet this basic message has been made so much more complicated.

The Fishmonger believes the lack of a global seafood organisation has left a gap for enemies of seafood to attack along all lines and weak links are easily exposed.

Many Non-Governmental Organisations (NGO’s) have led the charge against seafood, with several of them spreading misinformation in their campaigns out of self-interest and to obtain important funds. Comparatively speaking there is more funding made available to anti-seafood sentiments compared with promotions of the benefits.

No one knows how many people are employed and how much money has been sucked out of the global system by NGO’s in this regard and it has become a heavy anchor for the industry to compete against.

One of the major long-term NGO’s has on its website “As consumers, our choices matter—especially for the health of our oceans and the workers who bring seafood to our plates.”

With such an opening sentence one could be fooled into thinking they really care about our industry, but they continue “The U.S. is one of the world's largest consumers of seafood, and the largest market for canned tuna. This means our supermarkets—where we buy about half of our seafood—are one of the strongest connections to our oceans.” From that point onwards they spread their propaganda.

There can be no doubts whatsoever that such organisations have pressurised Supermarket chains widely to impose certification systems onto the industry. Whilst there are pros and cons for the certification it is costly and very few, if any, of the firms involved promote the benefits to the consumers. SME operators struggle in this process and are at a major disadvantage. Additionally, there is a lack of information to the industry on the costs/benefits of the schemes. So why there is a call for transparency on the industry the certification organisations and supermarkets avoid that process.

As this column has pointed out previously a certification industry has been created as another cost centre. Supermarkets promote some certifications over others and there is seemingly no one size that fits all thus leaving the industry having to follow a myriad of processes and audits. In trying to get a clearer picture we need to look at the evolution of the supermarket.

The emphasis of original supermarkets was on volume, merchandise was sold out of packing cartons and little attention was paid to décor. Supermarkets were initially a phenomenon of independents and small, regional chains. Eventually, the large chains caught on, and they refined the concept, adding a level of sophistication that had been lacking from the spartan stores of the early 1930s. Many began consolidating their thousands of small service stores into larger supermarkets, often replacing as many as five or six stores with one large, new one. Similar transformations occurred among all the “majors”; in fact, most national chains of the time saw their store counts peak around 1935 and then decline sharply through consolidation. Most chains operated both supermarkets and some old-style stores simultaneously for the next decade or so, either under the same name (like Safeway, A&P, and Kroger), or under different banners (such as the Big Star stores operated by the David Pender Grocery Company).

The market segmentation we see today in Supermarkets grew out of the discounting movement which intensified in the 1980s. The middle range began to disappear, albeit slowly, as mainline stores went more “upscale” and low-end stores moved more toward a warehouse model, evocative of the early supermarkets of the 1930s. Many chains operated at both ends of the spectrum, often under different names (Edwards and Finast was an example, as were the many A&P brands, from Futurestore to Sav-a-Center to Food Basics). In Canada, Loblaws pioneered with its No Frills franchises, often housed in former Loblaws locations, and the Oshawa Group opened Price Chopper warehouse stores in many of the Safeway locations it had purchased. Others eliminated one end of the market completely, like Harris Teeter in North Carolina, which abandoned discounting entirely.

The re-emergence of superstores, featuring general merchandise and groceries under one roof accelerated this trend. Only a few survived, Fred Meyer in Oregon being a noteworthy example, and “one stop shopping” seemed a relatively new and fresh idea when Kmart and Walmart tried it again, with considerably more success, starting around 1990.

The other big trend during this time was toward mergers and leveraged buyouts. This affected almost all the major chains. A&P was sold to German interests. Safeway took itself private in 1987 to avoid a hostile takeover and lost half its geographical reach in the process. Kroger slimmed down somewhat in 1988 for the same reasons, while Lucky was acquired by American Stores the same year. Another round of mergers in the 1990s placed American Stores in the hands of Albertsons, reunited Safeway with much of its former territory, and greatly increased the west coast presence of Kroger, making these three chains the dominant players in the industry, along with Walmart.

New groups were formed that saw points of differences that they perceived consumers wanted in a supermarket. One such example of this is Whole Foods Market, Inc., an American multinational supermarket chain headquartered in Austin, Texas, which sells products free from hydrogenated fats and artificial colors, flavors, and preservatives. A USDA Certified Organic grocer the chain is popularly known for its organic selections. Whole Foods has over 500 stores in North America and a small number in the United Kingdom and in August 2017, was acquired by Amazon. You can see where this is heading!

Supermarkets listen to NGO’s then they preach the sermon to the seafood industry that highlights that certification is essential and this funnels back to funding more NGO people and processes. It is a bad cycle which the industry has found itself.

The Fishmonger often wonders why NGO’s have not focused their efforts on products and services that supermarkets are engaged in guns, alcohol, tobacco, and gambling – known as “sin stocks”. Let us face it even soft drinks are bad for your health yet seem to come under so little scrutiny compared to seafood.

On gambling, Woolworths, one of Australia’s largest supermarket chains, is the biggest operator of pokies in the country. They control over ten thousand machines through its majority stake in the Australian Leisure and Hospitality Group, (ALH) a large company that encompasses bars, restaurants and wagering.

It has been reported that the Australian Federal MP Andrew Wilkie published multiple interviews with whistle-blowers and they alleged that staff in pubs owned by Woolworths were secretly recording and sharing detailed personal information - such as gambling habits or even favourite football teams - about high-turnover gamblers to encourage them to stay in the venues longer and increase their losses. The data being shared among all 400 pubs in Woolworths' network across the country in a bid to increase the chain’s poker machine revenue. The staff were rewarded with gift vouchers when betting targets are reached or broken, and notes were taken by staff to record what actions they took to encourage gamblers to stay on site.

Has such behaviour impacted their bottom line you ask?

Well, just recently they have reported their half-year results and they reported strong sales growth across all the group’s businesses. Overall sales increased 10.6 per cent to $35.8 billion. Australian Food saw total first half sales growth of 10.6 per cent, moderated gradually over the half with Q2 sales growth of 8.3 per cent. Earnings before interest and taxes (EBITS) grew by 13 per cent despite incremental COVID costs of $168 million in the half. Metro Food Stores continued to be materially impacted by reduced foot traffic in city and transit locations, with sales declining by 6.7 per cent to $456 million. In supermarkets, sales (excluding e-commerce) increased by 7.2 per cent, with customers continuing to shop less frequently with larger baskets.

During the half, 13 new stores were opened including eight supermarkets and five Metro Food Stores, with 35 renewals completed. At the end of the quarter, there were 994 supermarkets and 70 Metro Food Stores, with a total fleet of 1,064 stores.

Woolworths, on their website, indicate why sustainable seafood important to them and state, “The importance of seafood on a global scale from an economic, social and environmental perspective is clear. Fisheries and aquaculture contribute $US100 billion per year and about 260 million jobs to the global economy. Seafood is one of the most important sources of animal protein globally, accounting for about 17% of protein at the global level and exceeding 50% in

It is not that long ago that Walmart were in the news about selling guns and ammunition. They decided to take those products off the shelf in response to concerns about "isolated civil unrest" then quickly reversed the decision. It was reported that the country’s largest retailer had asked all its stores to move firearms and ammunition and to secure them in a backroom area of the store out of “an abundance of caution”. Then when the change was made a Walmart spokesperson told NBC News in an email “as the current incidents have remained geographically isolated, we have made the decision to begin returning these products to the sales floor today.”

The Fishmonger noted a research project recently reported - Do ‘environmental bads’ such as alcohol, fast food, tobacco, and gambling outlets cluster and co-locate in more deprived areas in Glasgow City, Scotland? This study examined the socio-spatial patterning of outlets selling potentially health-damaging goods/services, such as alcohol, fast food, tobacco, and gambling, within Glasgow City, Scotland. For all categories of outlets combined, numbers of clusters increased linearly from the least to the most income deprived areas. Co-location of individual types of outlets (alcohol, fast food, tobacco, and gambling) within similar geographical areas was also evident. The aim of the research is to influence interventions to tackle the co-occurrence of unhealthy behaviours and contribute to policies tackling higher numbers of ‘environmental bads’ within deprived areas.

They concluded that a greater number of clusters of ‘environmental bad’ outlets (alcohol, fast food, tobacco, and gambling outlets combined) were located within more deprived areas. Additionally, when analysed individually alcohol outlets, tobacco outlets, fast food outlets and gambling outlets were clustered within deprived areas. Furthermore, they found a greater number of overlapping clusters in more deprived neighbourhoods showing evidence of co-location.

Supermarkets, despite the spin they create, are not necessarily the best judges. The Fishmonger recalls a position in Mexico when the largest supermarket chain was not keen to engage on seafood promotion and then they found that customers responded to the general promotion activities and their seafood sales soared (despite them!). This resulted in them changing their seafood counters to meet demand and engaging in the promotion process.

How can a product like seafood which brings so many health benefits to those that consume it be treated so poorly by the supermarkets? Ask the question, demand improvement!

Please remember this and promote it widely:

“The evidence is now unambiguous. Including fish/seafood each week in your diet is an excellent advantage to health and longevity”.

References:

Woolworths and gambling - https://www.pokiesplayyou.org.au/woolworths_explainer

Walmart and guns - https://www.nbcnews.com/news/amp/ncna1245518

Do ‘environmental bads’ such as alcohol, fast food, tobacco, and gambling outlets cluster and co-locate in more deprived areas in Glasgow City, Scotland? - ScienceDirect

Why Sustainable Seafood? | Greenpeace (greenpeaceusa.org)

A Quick History of the Supermarket – Groceteria.com

Woolworths reports strong half-yearly results - Convenience & Impulse Retailing (c-store.com.au)

Sustainable Seafood - Woolworths Group


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