Shop Owners: Tesco Undermining Smaller Stores
Independent shopkeepers in the east of England are working together to take on major supermarkets as Tesco announced it will focus on convenience stores to boost its revival.
In the Norwich area alone, Tesco, already has 50 stores ranging from its out-of-town superstores to the small One Stop corner shops.
Nigel Dowdney, the owner of the Earlham Shopper, says the prospect of even more competition for convenience stores is not good news.
"The number of independent stores in Norwich is dropping all the time.
"Tesco go in and undermine the local store or they offer a lot of money to get the owners out so they can take it over."
Nigel Dowdney's father helped set up a group-buying organisation called Red Orange that enabled them to pool their resources and bulk buy.
But it is only in the past few years that the number of members has soared, as pressure from the major chains has hit.
Yet it is still tough trying to compete.
"The problem is Tesco negotiates very hard with their suppliers. They are buying at the same prices whether the products are going into a Tesco Extra or an Express," said Mr Dowdney.
"On average they can buy 16% cheaper than us."
Some 30 miles away in Pakefield, on the Suffolk-Norfolk border, butcher Cleeve Hutson has just closed another shop.
The family business was started in 1947 and at its peak included 14 shops and two abattoirs with a turnover of £35m a year.
"We are down to one shop now and the supermarkets have not helped in our demise," said Mr Hutson.
"It makes my heart sink enormously. Every Tesco Express that goes up is a nail in the coffin of the small enterprise."
But florist Jackie Batchelor, whose shop is in the same parade as Mr Dowdney's in Norwich, says she understands why people go where it is cheapest.
"They say they will support their local shops but when a Tesco opens they go back on their word and I can't blame people when the price of everything is so high.
"A lot of people around here are older, a lot are unemployed or single mothers and they are going to go where they are going to save money."
KE Hutson butchers has been in Mr Hutson's family for three generations but it is unclear what lies ahead.
"The future of the great British shop is in the hands of the public," he said. "If they want them to survive, they have to use them, otherwise the great service will disappear."