I don’t think anyone really needs much convincing over the unintended consequences of supermarkets (inner city decline, fewer jobs in retailing, etc), but they aren’t delivering the savings we think they do, either.
The EC is currently investigating the failure of supermarkets to pass price cuts on to shoppers. The cost of butter has fallen by 39% over the past year however the price paid by consumers has only gone down by 2%. The commission has also discovered that the price of skimmed milk powder was down 49%, cheese down 18% and milk down 31% but again the price paid by consumers has only fallen by 2%. (Source)
The Ethical Consumer has some excellent advice on supermarket shopping, which I’d strongly recommend you read. A few highlights:
Supermarkets have long been loudly competing over price, each using advertising to directly compare and undercut one another. They’re now being accused of hiking up the price of food more than that of inflation.
Many people believe supermarket food to be cheaper, but this is just a line we’ve been fed by the supermarkets themselves.
Through careful advertising, and placing of competitively priced loss-leaders, supermarkets are able to sneak up and hit us where it hurts for other products whose value is not so well known, and where they may actually be charging more than small independent retailers on the high street.
According to an article in the Telegraph this year, red peppers at Sainsbury’s cost £5.87 a kilo — far in excess of the average £3.45 at the independent shops — and Tesco was charging £8.87 for a kilo of Chilean cherries, considerably more than the average £6.81 that traditional greengrocers were charging.