Sunday, February 10

Shopping by numbers

Almost every weekend we shop for groceries at a giant Tesco Supermarket. It's always busy. Sundays are usually the worst as shopping hours are restricted. Stores larger than 280 sq metres cannot open for more than six hours and only between 10am and 6pm. Some department stores artifically extend their hours by allowing customers to browse the shelves up to an hour before the tills officially open.

Sunday trading was generally not permitted anywhere in England and Wales until 1994. Only small corner stores and specialist outlets like garden shops were exempt from such restrictions. Today these small stores can still set their own Sunday hours, unlike larger brethren. However, despite this restriction, Tesco still saw a market opportunity. It operates its own chain of small Express stores with extended trading hours.

We have one such store in our local area. It acts as our primary source of bread, soft-bake cookies and milk. Despite the convenience Tesco still manages to attract local ire. Last year the local residents successfully campaigned for Tesco to stock the store using a smaller delivery truck. Previously Tesco replenished the store using a larger truck that carried enough stock for two or more small stores. Residents complained that the truck was noisy, blocked traffic and generally harmed the local quality of life.

No matter how you cut the numbers Tesco dominates the UK grocery industry. It holds a 31% market share for grocery sales and operates 1,988 stores, making its one of the nation's largest retailers. Currently more than £1 in every £7 (14.3%) of UK retail sales is spent at Tesco. It's Clubcard is also the largest loyalty card program in the UK. Garry and I are one of its 13 million active Clubcard holders.

Every time we shop at Tesco I am astonished at the variety on offer. Perhaps the most unusual item I've seen is Passover Coke. Every year in the lead up to the Jewish Passover holiday season Coke makes its flagship drink using a special recipe. Coke is generally sweetened with high-fructose corn syrup. However, Jewish law prevents the consumption of cereals and grains, including corn, during this period. As a result, Passover Coke is sweetened with traditional cane sugar. Fascinating. My local supermarket is the last place I expected a lesson in religion.

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