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HIGH STREET 2

BUY BUY TESCO

14-02-2007

Fancy shopping in a store that sells live turtlesand whale meat? Welcome to Tesco. Not that you'll findthese exotic goods stocked in your local high street, but Lynn Hawthorne reckons consumers at home should checkout what "every little helps" means abroad.

There is consternation in the High Street. A recent survey has told us, the consumer, what we already know: that traditional British shops are under threat.

The government is ‘considering' trying to protect independent shops or regional chains from unfair competition by the ‘big boys', the supermarket giants who have swallowed up small-fry and changed the way in which we shop.

For many areas, it's already too late. BBC Breakfast recently conducted an experiment in a suburb on the outskirts of London, aiming to buy five common items from an average high street.

They found sausages and could post a parcel, but, oddly, the one they struggled with was socks. Locals firmly blamed the growth of out-of-town shopping.

My home town of Wednesbury is facing a massive challenge to its high street. A huge supermarket complex is currently under construction and the jury is still out on whether or not it is good news for the town.

At the moment, we're lucky with our spread of small independent shopkeepers. We still have 4 butchers, 2 greengrocers, one electrical shop, one hardware shop and a new fashion shop for youngsters.

We've lost a lot over the years, just like everywhere else, but we've held on. What happens when the supermarket opens next Christmas remains to be seen. You only have to think back to what happened to Brierley Hill when the Merry Hill Centre opened to be fearful.

The survey placed the blame for the decline of the high street firmly at the feet of the big supermarket chains and singled out Tesco as the main culprit. And looking at the statistics, it's not difficult to see why.

Across the UK, Tesco has 1252 stores in four different formats: Superstore (446), Express (546), Metro (160) and Extra (100).

They are outstripping their rivals and can claim to have started the trend for lowering prices, with their ‘value' range in no-frills packaging and their slogan “every little helps.”

As well as groceries, Tesco now offers fashion, electrical equipment and finance, including insurance and loans, and has come to dominate UK retail.

But that's not all. They have branched out and now operate in 12 markets outside the UK, serving more than 15 million customers in Europe and Asia, including Thailand, Japan and China. It's brand is ubiquitous.

Some analysts see it as a huge success story; competitors see it as a sinister attempt at global domination. Rather like HSBC and its claim to be the ‘world's local bank' by adapting to local customs, Tesco has attempted to adapt its stores to suit the local tastes.

In Thailand, for example, people are used to open-air street markets, so the range of pre-packed and packaged Western food is at a minimum.

At the new store in Beijing, which opened to such a fanfare recently, the aisle selling British goods stood forlornly empty. Which is as it should be, some might say, when you consider the damage done to health in Eastern countries when the likes of McDonalds have opened up the concept of fast, but unhealthy, food.

For me, however, this ‘blending in' causes a moral dilemma. I sent my Tesco Clubcard back and have refused to shop in the store since I discovered that Tesco sells minke whale meat in its Japanese stores.

The explanation I was given was that the sale of such goods was due to ‘local demand.' So? Just because that's the Japanese culture doesn't mean that a British company has got to resort to such barbaric practices.

A company which has a section covering its own corporate stance on environmental issues on its website should be taking more of a lead, rather than following the trends of other cultures.

The latest horror is to be found in the new Beijing store: the sale of live turtles. How can this be justified? So far, that's two species battling to survive in a world over-populated by gas-guzzling humans actively being caught and sold for food by Tesco.

I can't support this, so I don't. I don't care how low the prices and how high the fashion, I shan't be setting foot in another Tesco store ever again and I shall continue to shop as locally as possible, only resorting to the giant retailers when I need something in particular.

Does it matter how stores behave abroad? Should we expect them to observe British cultural beliefs and standards overseas? Leave a comment on our messageboard.

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