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Dodgy fish, dodgy store: my beef with Tesco

03 October 2014

SOME years ago, I made a decision to avoid shopping at Tesco. I have not stuck to it completely; there are occasions when the Tesco Express across the road from Christ Church, Oxford, is the only option when I have run out of some essential. (It has to be really essential though - loo rolls, milk).

I have a gripe with Tesco which goes back a long way. There was the "fresh" salmon that turned out to be less fresh than it looked on the fish counter; and the organic chicken that smelt so disgusting once the packaging was off that it went straight in the bin.

As I never took the items back, or complained, I dismissed these incidents as unfortunate one-offs; but I never bought fresh fish at Tesco again, and I never bought organic chicken again, from anywhere.

But what finished it for me was the relentless spread of Tesco Express, often in the teeth of local opposition, and to the detriment of other local stores.

Of course, Tesco is not the only supermarket chain to have seen the potential for neighbourhood stores with a catchment area of half a mile or so. But there has been something dismal and almost anti-social about Tesco's determination to get its way. It took four appeals to the council before Tesco finally got permission to open the store that is now nearest me.

While the battle went on, the site it had earmarked, where a pub had burnt down in 2007, was left to become a derelict eyesore. Of course, when the smart new Tesco Express was finally erected it was an improvement; but, oh, the cheap cheerfulness of the new store - its much-trumpeted red-brick construction, with faux Georgian entrance enticing shoppers in, as though there were something special here.

Once inside (and, yes, I did go in, just once), it was, of course, just a mini-Tesco: young and slightly harassed-looking staff, and goods strewn on the floor, as on the shelves. What else would anyone have expected?

We now know that Tesco greatly over-estimated its recent profits, assuming the inevitability of a continued expansion which took no account of the inroads made on its market by the cheaper stores Lidl and Aldi. The new chief executive will have to deal with this.

But he will also have to engage with a deeper issue: the corporate hubris that made Tesco believe, wrongly, that it is unassailable. The market is unforgiving to those who overreach themselves.

The Revd Angela Tilby is Diocesan Canon of Christ Church, Oxford.

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