Supermarket David and Goliath shows local is best

IT hasn’t been a good year for Tesco, has it? Tumbling share prices, investigations into accountancy scandals, revelations in newspapers about its culture of fear and intimidation of staff and suppliers – and just last week, the supermarket goliath was beaten by a family-run business in the UK Retail Industry Awards.

Sad really for British Food Fortnight, which this year had proudly announced Tesco as a major sponsor – but then, why would a celebration of food from the UK’s different regions be supported by a company that has done so much to reduce choice on the high street, to undermine the production of local varieties and breeds by its demands for “consistency” and to drive small businesses into financial hardship with its ruthless buying policies?

Many of us in rural areas know of specialist producers, farmers and growers brought to the edge of ruin by major supermarkets ordering huge quantities of, say, a particular variety of carrot, all to be a certain size and shape, only to have the order cancelled, after they have switched production to concentrate on the specific item and taken on staff to help meet the order. The carrots are left rotting in the fields …

Customers may be attracted by buy-one-get-one-free offers but suppliers pay the price in reductions on payments that have already been cut to the bone.

Of course, Tesco isn’t the only supermarket giant to see falls in both profits and share values, as people change their shopping habits – Sainsbury and Morrisons have both been having a rough ride, and the companies doing well are the German low-price stores Lidl and the family-owned Aldi.

But while many people are now doing a lot of their main weekly shop in a canny, price-conscious way at Aldi and Lidl, others are shopping in a more traditional European style, particularly for fresh food, on a daily basis. Many shoppers have moved away from the BOGOF culture (nobody can actually eat two big bags of satsumas before half of them have gone bad!) and are looking for good buys and seasonal deals at smaller independently owned shops or local street or farmers markets.

Other people are saving on petrol and time by ordering what they want online and avoiding the temptations of clever marketing and attractive packaging.

Dike and Son of Stalbridge in North Dorset is a success story and a rarity – an independently owned, family-run supermarket which is dedicated to providing a wide range of essentials at sensible prices, and offering an excellent selection of locally produced food, meat, dairy and fresh fruit and vegetables, and wines, beers and ciders.

Last week, Dike’s beat Tesco and Asda to be named best beer and cider retailer in the 2014 UK Retail Industry Awards and won the top awards as Independent Retailer of the Year and Independent Drinks Retailer of the Year. Residents of Stalbridge and the surrounding area are rightly proud of the success of this locally-owned business, which provides jobs for local people, supports local producers and offers the twin benefits of a traditional family shop with the efficiency and smooth service we expect from a supermarket.

Dike’s also supports local organisations, charities and events, reflecting its deep 160-year roots in North Dorset. Later this month, Dike’s will have stalls at Screen Bites Food Film Festival events at Stourton Caundle and the finale at Sturminster Exchange and shoppers will be able to taste produce from some of the area’s best artisan producers at the store during Dorset Food Week.

Wherever you live, there are plenty of bargains to be found if you look around – and shopping becomes more pleasurable because you get to know the shop-keeper and staff, the farmer or food producer or market trader and you meet friends and neighbours and catch up on personal and community news.

Shopping locally simply makes sense – you are supporting locally owned businesses, getting good value and helping to maintain a lively economy for your town or region.

Small steps but everybody benefits! As they say, every little helps …

Fanny Charles