The Grumpy Old Man

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Do You Use Your Local Supermarket?

Are you as fully in charge of what you purchase as you think? Or are you being manipulated by other Big Brother like agencies?

Some time ago Mrs Grumpy and I decided to use our local supermarket because we had noticed there were significant environmental considerations.

By local, I mean in the small town which is about one and a half miles up the road. For years we had driven, weekly, some twenty miles each way to our nearest medium-sized town where we had the choice of two large supermarkets, together with a number of small department stores, and many other facilities that one would normally expect in such a town. This weekly shop became something of a habit and a day out. Of course we would have lunch and frequently morning coffee while were in the town.

Since then, we have used the local supermarket with the occasional trips into our large town when we needed to bulk buy something not stocked locally, or any other odds and sods that we needed.

In one of our moments of quiet retrospection it occurred to us that just by shopping locally we were also being environmentally friendly. On an environmental front we were reducing the pollution generated by our diesel car (which being old has no particulate filter in the exhaust system) our carbon footprint, and many other savings.

This realisation of our more environmentally friendly shopping also made us look in closer detail at what we were buying. We try desperately hard to buy organic, local produce misinformation on the goods labelling can mislead the public into buying produce that's not strictly true to form.

For example this, Grumpy is reminded of a member of the family born in Dublin, now living in the United States, who, when he visits us, always raves about the ham we purchase locally. He always says "there's nothing like a bit of Irish ham". Now we would all agree with him, but the interesting thing is, some time after this observation, it was pointed out on a television consumer affairs programme that most of the ham labelled as "Irish" was only packed in Ireland and the meat itself had almost certainly been grown and cured in Holland or Denmark. And this was even though the labelling actually said "Produce of Ireland". The programme drew attention to the fact that current legislation allowed producers to call products "Irish" so long as they were packed in Ireland. Gordon Bennett what a con.

But this manipulation of the general public doesn't stop there. I accept that being a medium-sized supermarket they cannot stock everything that will suit every man and his dog. But one thing I have noticed is the covert manipulation of one's buying habits. As an example, our cats are no different to your average cat, that is fussy in what they will and will not eat. They are particularly partial to a tinned fish variety but it must be in jelly! For quite some time this could be purchased in the local shop. It suddenly disappeared from the shelves and so I asked if they had any "in the back". The response was that they no longer stocked that particular variety in tins but it was available in sachets. Quick sums proved that the sachets would cost two to three times the price! It is interesting to note that the tinned variety has not been on their shelves for a couple of years now. When I queried this I was told that it "was no longer on their list". I got the impression that this list was generated by their wholesale supplier "Musgrave" and that they could only order from the list ergo, "Musgrave was controlling what they could or could not sell.

That was all some time ago but I had yet another example of this in the last week or two. Mrs Grumpy has been in the habit of using one of the cholesterol reducing spreads (I must confess I love my butter). For a number of years there have been two different brands of this available on the shelf. Only last month one of the brands (as chance would have it the brand that she used) disappeared from the shelves overnight. Yes I agree we can now buy the alternative brand but once again the wholesaler seems to be controlling what we are allowed to purchase.

I have no doubt that the background to these shenanigans is based on profit margins, bulk purchase discounts, promotion of a poorly selling line or dare I suggest it, the ubiquitous brown envelope in one of its many forms!

I have suspected many similar instances but none of them have been quite so blatant as those mentioned above.

As a further development, the last time I was "up the smoke" buying from the larger supermarket, I found that the tinned cat food had disappeared from their shelves too. Again all that I could purchase was these very expensive sachets. I'm afraid the cats went without for a day or two!

I accept that all of this relates to our supermarket on the rural west coast of southern Ireland but I'm sure that the same thing goes on in your local supermarket as well. So be very wary of what you buy and remember you can't always believe what you read on the label. It is galling is that this information is supposed to be governed by legislation. However the sales, marketing and promotional people seem to think they can drive all sorts of wagons through this and try to hoodwink the buying public. If they can't manipulate what you buy with economically truthful labelling information then they will control it through other means such as availability.

Grumpy accepts that it is very difficult identifying and then counteracting these sorts of activities. The only thing the buying public can do in these circumstances is not to purchase the item that is being foist upon us. If you feel you must purchase the item, then purchase it with an open mind.