Supermarkets: Good, Bad, Or just too convenient?

EGi this week reported some good news for the supermarket investment market via a report from IPD; which indicated that it was one of the fastest-growing commercial property sectors. This is the first time that IPD has grouped supermarkets in an investment category of their own when conducting its retail investment research – and much can be read into the fact that supermarkets appear to represent a much less risky prospect for investors than other retail assets, as well as offering a higher return than other prospective investments.

Good news, then, for anyone looking to dive into supermarket ownership – and also for any of the big four seeking to boost their expansion trail by divesting themselves of any owner-occupied premises – but what might this mean for the wider retail market?

Henry Porter launched a scathing attack on supermarkets on Sunday – calling for a ‘Leveson enquiry for supermarkets’ to attempt to prevent these retail behemoths from, as he sees it, fattening our children, ruining town centres, causing illiteracy, encouraging alcoholism and re-introducing a form of slave labour in order to boost profits.

So, to anyone of a similar persuasion to Porter, the IPD report should make for worrying reading; as with a dearth of truly healthy investment options currently available – it could foreshadow another unstoppable extension of the power wielded by superstores.

A common argument in defence of supermarket proliferation is that we, the consumers, are complicit in their expansion by opting to give in to their lower prices and higher levels of convenience – but what happens when those factors have such force that they destroy all existing competition, removing the element of choice entirely?

Testimony from Barnstaple last year tells a typical and all-too-often heard story of how the fanfares that greeted the arrival of a new Tesco Extra were soon drowned out by the ‘high street closures’ klaxon just months down the line; and residents have now taken matters into their own hands – petitioning North Devon Council to stop any further supermarkets coming to the town. They are not alone, with dozens of campaigns nationwide now actively seeking to discourage supermarkets from operating in their area.

Whilst I wouldn’t go as far as Porter has, and lay the blame a disproportionate amount of the world’s ills squarely at the door of Tesco-et-al; the Government may well want to look a little more closely at this issue, and possibly stymie the growth of supermarkets in certain areas in order to give town centres a better chance of recovery. 

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