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How Supermarkets Are Regaining Control Over Consumer Choices

Posted on 16 July 2012

While many of us do our best to ensure that a majority of our purchases are local, ethical and environmental, ultimately, finances and necessity (read convenience) overtakes our cynicism and we end up buying our organic chickpeas from a major supermarket chain.
If we rewind a few decades to the 1950s and beyond, consumers had little or no choice when it came to consumable items; the store keeper chose the brand and allocated a price for our purchases. This relationship between the consumer and store keeper all changed when somewhere in the 60s when the supermarket was introduced and consumers we permitted to browse the isles for products. Consumers could themselves select what they wanted, a turning point in the control of consumer choice.
These abundant choices continued through to the present day where we no longer use a basket to carry our groceries, we need a tank sized trolley to cart our purchases to our self-serve checkout. We have endless choices for any item that consumes our attention and we well and truly have control of our choices. Or do we?
Our supermarket roller coaster ride has been spent for many of us with our eyes wide shut. While some may have been quietly hoping for the dynamic range of choices to be minimised (do we really need an entire isle dedicated to soft drink?), for some of us we are now becoming cognisant to the fact that we really have not been in control of our choices for some time now.
Like the evil sister that quietly studies and entices our boyfriend until she finally covets his affections right under our naive nose, supermarkets have been studying our purchases (loyalty cards), understanding our preferences (stocking organic chickpeas) and providing us with incentives to spend more (how many times have I spent $28 on groceries and found myself disappointed that I didn’t spend enough to get my fuel voucher?).
How could we not have seen this coming? Obviously there have been some big monopoly decisions that have occurred in order to manipulate the general course of events, but I suppose it really started when some of the big guys realised that the idea of a supermarket or no label brand was attractive to the consumer. I remember in the 80s when the supermarket brands were originally shelved near the ‘Homebrand’ and ‘Black & Gold’ budget brands, until that is, they did their research and realised that there was more money to be had in eliminating competitors’ brands from the shelves and stocking their own products.
For me, this really all came to crisis point when I realised that the organic chickpeas that I had been unashamedly purchasing from a major supermarket chain was no longer available. I tracked down my cherished brand of organic chickpeas at a local independent grocer, only to find that their price was more than double what I had been purchasing them for. I also realised that a huge majority of natural and organic ‘healthy alternatives’ that you could previously purchase in supermarkets have been replaced with identical supermarket products. Granted, these products may well come from the same farms and be manufactured in the same factories and simply packaged differently, who really benefits here?
Being both a consumer and a small business owner myself this really made me realise that some of my purchases as a consumer were not in line with my beliefs as a small business owner. As we grow and learn, each of us begins to understand the value of how even our smallest purchases influence our global economy. Ultimately it is up to us as consumers to support small independent businesses, to allow ourselves to sustain and relinquish control of our choices and enable small businesses to remain as an integral part of our economy. As I learn to make more conscious and aware choices with buying natural, organic and local products from independent small business I hope this will somehow influence others to do the same. 

Choose natural, choose organic, choose local.


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