‘Bully’ Tesco accused of using cash and carry to ‘squeeze’ village stores out of business. This is what happens when you allow monopolies

Village stores have sounded the alarm over what they claim is a battle for survival, accusing the supermarket group Tesco of using its cash-and-carry arm to “squeeze” them out of business by restricting supplies and deliveries of groceries.

Independent retailers, many of them also running the local post office, have told the Guardian that a series of changes recently introduced by Tesco’s wholesale arm, Booker, were adding to pressures at a time when some villages had been left with just one small shop – or none at all.

They claim Booker has:

• Reduced the range of items available by up to 30% at some sites.

• Withdrawn customer favourites at some sites including Yorkshire Tea, Rowntree’s sweets and Colman’s mustard.

• Reduced the availability and reliability of deliveries.

Andrew Goodacre, the chief executive of the British Independent Retailers Association (Bira), called on the UK competition watchdog to examine the issue and said he would be raising the matter with Kevin Hollinrake, the minister for small business.

“I think it’s shocking,” Goodacre said of the problems reported by small retailers. “This shows the worst of a large company bullying little shops. Communities want these small shops and these are not businesses making millions of pounds.”

Seven years ago, the competition watchdog took a much-criticised decision to wave through the acquisition of Booker, the country’s biggest grocery wholesaler, by Tesco, its biggest supermarket chain.

Via Booker, Tesco also controls the Londis, Budgens and Premier groups, which are made up of thousands of independent stores tied into buying deals with the wholesaler.

In 2017, at the time of the Booker takeover, rival wholesalers wrote to the Competition and Markets Authority warning it would hand Tesco “incontestable power over the procurement of all grocery categories in the UK”.

Jonathan Cobb, who runs the village shop and post office in Miserden, Gloucestershire, said it felt like the fears raised then were now a reality. His local Booker has stopped selling sought-after brands including Colman’s mustard, Tuc and Cheddars biscuits.

The alternatives provided are often branded with the Jack’s label, supplied by Booker, which has packaging displaying the catchline: “part of the Tesco family”. Cobb said he did not wish to sell Jack’s products “as it says Tesco on it”.

As much as 30% of the range he previously bought from Booker could no longer be sourced, said Cobb, and it felt like Tesco was “slowly pushing us aside”.

He cannot order enough for a delivery as there is nowhere to store those goods in his small shop. He also wants to continue supporting local farms by buying fresh meat, fruit and vegetables from them and does not want to be solely reliant on one wholesaler.

Read More: Tesco accused of using cash and carry to ‘squeeze’ village stores out of business


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