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Why I love supermarkets

April 16, 2008

If I ask people whether they prefer to shop in supermarkets or at their local kirana (grocery shop) I get mixed responses. Supermarkets after all have started to proliferate only in the last 5 years or so and some people are still not comfortable shopping here, except occasionally. They prefer the local grocer as they have a personal relationship with the fellow and perhaps feel some amount of loyalty towards him. Home delivery and credit which the local grocer provides is also a big plus and well, so is distance. Not many people are lucky enough to live within walking distance of a supermarket. And that is what we Indians are used to…walking to the corner store.

supermarketSupermarkets are a boon
Having moved cities every couple of years, finding a good kirana shop was never an easy job for me. Local retailers give you the best service if they know you, and you speak to them in their own language, which is usually the language of the region. And there is also no way you can know which retailer is honest and which one suits you best if you are new in the neighborhood. One is forced to learn by trial and error. And having juggled work and home for many years, for me shopping at these small shops had become far too time-consuming. One had to wait patiently for the retailer to measure out each item one by one. If there was a crowd of people at the shop, it meant a longer wait. Somehow I am the kind of person who doesn’t like stuff home delivered. I like to pick my own grains from a myriad of different qualities available and I like to feel the vegetable and fruits with my fingers before I buy them. Totally impractical, but then supermarkets allow me to do this without anyone breathing down my neck.

Besides, with vegetable and fruit sellers it was always this endless bargaining process which one had to go through and I had tired of it.

At supermarkets, I worry less about being cheated. Or rather if there is cheating, I know it applies equally to all customers. Somehow it really upsets me if I am charged a different price from a customer whom the retailer likes more. Therefore for me supermarkets have been a manna from heaven.

Fruit sellerSupermarkets are good for the country too…they help curb inflation
A recent study by Assocham tells us how middlemen are contributing to the present inflation in India and what the country needs is more supermarkets which will give the farmer direct access to the final seller. Instead we have the wholesaler buying from the farmer and selling to a semi-wholesaler who sells to the retailer and as a result prices get inflated. And these middlemen take far more than they should.

Inflation is at 7.41 percent (March 2008), at its highest since November 2004 and this is being caused by increase in prices of metals, food and fuel. Middlemen have helped raise prices.

The price paid to the farmer for his produce has gone up by only 33 percent in the last 5 years, but the price that the wholesaler (who buys from the farmer and sells to the retailer) has gone up by 60 percent. And the retailer too is taking a higher profit than he did before.

The President of ASSOCHAM says:

The Wholesale Price has benefited multiple times middlemen and traders, particularly for sale of essential commodities and worst hit in the process remained farmer and consumer as farmers margins squeezed badly with consumers paying unreasonably higher pricesโ€ฆThe ASSOCHAM Chief, however, hoped that with the big retail players (supermarkets) like Reliance, Subhiksha etc. opening up their chains of retail outlets, consumers would benefit and farmers get reasonable price for their produce as organised retailers source their supplies directly from farm land for end users without involving middle men in the process.

Two examples that are eye-openers:

  • In 2007-08 the farmer got just 0.70 percent more (over the previous year) for the price of Arhar dal, but the wholesale price jumped up by 32 percent!
  • For gram dal, the farmer got an increase of just 0.70% in 2007-08 over the previous year, but wholesalers sold the dal after jacking up the price by 42 percent! And then retailer take a further margin of 20 t0 35 percent.

Farmers suffer alongwith consumers
A quote from the Commodity Markets Regulator, Forward Markets Commission (FMC):

The study is an eye opener and confirms what farmers and consumers have experienced all along. It is the traders who corner stocks buying at lower prices at harvest time and selling at higher prices later. The profit they get is disproportionately higher than the value addition. risks taken vis-ร -vis the value addition and risks taken by the farmers.

The FMC suggests the following measures:

  • Primary suppliers and corporate retailers need to buy directly from farmers
  • Another way is to encourage farmers to store their own stocks in godowns and banks should allow loans for this purpose
  • The government should be extremely strict with unscrupulous traders and book them under essential commodities act
  • Public also to be vigilant and bring to notice of the authorities of any untowardly high prices.

While Inflation is a world wide phenomena today and so is food shortage, some of our peculiar problems are helping Inflation along. Large scale hoarding by middlemen is one of them.

Here are some measures the government has taken to curb inflation, which they expect to go down to 4 percent by August this year:

  • Import duty on all crude edible oils, including palm and soya, to be abolished
  • Export of non-basmati rice and pulses is banned
  • Import duty on butter and clarified butter (ghee) has been cut from 40 per cent to 30 per cent
  • The 15 per cent import duty on maize (for imports up to five lakh tons) has been abolished
  • States have been asked to impose limits on commodity stocks with middlemen and take stringent measures under the Essential Commodities Act to prevent hoarding
  • Steel producers have been asked not to raise prices
  • Cement export has been banned
  • Warehouses of traders in Maharashtra and Delhi raided last weekend while Andhra Pradesh and Gujarat have imposed stock limits to prevent hoarding

More measures are to be taken by the RBI about which we will know by the end of the month. There is an indication that the RBI is thinking of increasing interest rates to reduce liquidity.

(Photos are by me)

Related Reading: Agitating against large retailers is not in national interest
Comparisons of some major supermarkets in India

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40 Comments leave one →
  1. April 16, 2008 9:56 am

    a minor correction.
    the inflation figures reported by India is WPI and not CPI. (i had written a long post on that some time ago) Hence the prices that are taken into account are wholesale prices and hence the middlemen margins are not considered.

  2. April 16, 2008 11:32 am

    Regarding safety aspects: other than the new supermarkets the old supermarkets have poor fire protection systems. Even in the new ones whether they are maintained properly or not is not known.

  3. April 16, 2008 2:39 pm

    Very informative post.

    and Now I Love owning supermarkets๐Ÿ™‚

  4. April 16, 2008 4:23 pm

    I recently(two days ago) discussed with our neighbour Kirana Shpkeeper about super markets. He gave me example of “more” shopping center. I am quoting here his own words:

    As a matter of fact, I am personally happy about the quality of material that is available there. To attract more people and profit also, they need some changes.

    Now see some local statistics: two weeks ago, an item (I forgot which) was priced as Rs. 5.50 per Kg in “more” while in local market, it was Rs. 4. Now this week, local market price is near about Rs 6-7 and “more” is still selling at Rs 5.50.

    So for this week, you can say its cheap. But last week they must have suffered some loss. Generally, customers do not like changing shops every other week. They know market prices and want to purchase things at same place.

    This is a real life answer for your post. Your post is rich with statistics and experiences, but I just wanted to add a real shopkeeper opinion.
    ๐Ÿ™‚
    Suda

  5. Joss permalink
    April 16, 2008 4:38 pm

    I completely understand what you are saying, Nita. You now have a more western/urban lifestyle and so feel a bit like a foreigner in town. I would feel the same and would seek out an Indian supermarket before venturing into the local shop. And yet here in Britain we have become disillusioned with the supermarkets and are being constantly urged to shop locally. In doing so we can cut down on the carbon footprint of the food, avoid unnecessary packaging, and build up a relationship with the shopkeeper. This is actually the kind of shopping experience that many aspire to here! But you are right, it is much more time-consuming, and risky. I personally get food delivered from a distributor who only handles products from my region. Like many, however, I would like to grow more of my own food. This, of course, would give rise to a whole new category of problems: namely, caterpillars, pigeons, mice and badgers! What to do?

    We are also reading a lot about global price rises and food shortages. Why are so many of the world’s people starving when more food was produced in 2007 than ever before? Your post helps to explain the price rises, which are partly caused by the greed of distributors. The shortages have two main causes, it seems. The demand for bio-fuels is ensuring that suddenly grain is being used to feed cars and buses where before it was used to feed people. The other main reasn we hear about is the increased demand for meat, in places like India. Grain is being increasingly fed to livestock instead of to people. I myself have decided to cut back on the amount of meat I feed my family, and only eat it at the weekends. But how can I expect the newly affluent in India to deny themselves something that, along with cars and air-conditioning, they have always aspired to and can only now afford? And yet the planet can not sustain a western lifestyle for everyone. Most people here are not prepared to give up their comforts, so instead they blame the Indian middle-classes for wanting theirs. Are the Indian middle-classes aware how the finger of blame is pointing to them. I would be interested to find out.

  6. April 16, 2008 5:51 pm

    Ankur, Old Sailor, thanks.

    Bharath, tell me if you buy one! I will surely visit it!๐Ÿ™‚

    Suda, Yes I agree that sometimes their prices are skewed, but as you said we are too pressed for time to check. But one should be alert.

    Joss, thanks for sharing that perspective! I had no idea that grocers were ‘coming back’ so to say in the west. I didn’t think about the packaging part…that is a big plus for grocers. Many of them do not give plastic and expect you to carry a bag with you.
    That aspect about meat is bang on. In fact I was going to write a post on this subject, for which I have collected some data. I might be posting on this in the future. Lets see.
    To some extent the educated in India are aware that underdeveloped countries are being blamed for things that the west has been doing for a long time. For example greenhouse gases. In fact there is a huge fight going on and I think our govt. is handling is quite well. There was a time when we were asked to cut down on rice production! It was ridiculous! While I know that consumption of meat is going up in India, and that in the world there is a movement to reduce consumption for this reason. However, I did not know that India and other developing nations were being singled out for criticism. If this is so, I guess it fits with the general attitude of the developed nations.
    And even if it was desirable I doubt that one can convince people in poorer countries to think about larger issues like environment. People are still struggling with the basic needs and no one is going to care enough. That too is sad, but a reality.

  7. April 16, 2008 5:52 pm

    Credit and personal treatment is why I shop from local store. But at times, its fun to do the “shopping”

    One attraction that I have towards supermarkets, is that you actually have the access to everything, take it out from the rack, have a good look and decide, compare etc etc and your local shop cant give u that facility

  8. April 16, 2008 6:18 pm

    hmm….it will be nice if supermarkets adopt particular areas for growing their stuff…

  9. April 16, 2008 6:27 pm

    Nita,

    Nice post ! Though I am not a shopaholic,I too like (not love,though) supermarkets for the reasons you mentioned,in addition to the following:

    # One can always check the manufacturing date,’best before’ date of the products and choose from the shelves.
    # They are usually air-conditioned,very important for those who live in hot and humid cities ๐Ÿ˜
    # A variety of brands are available,unlike some grocers who only stock brands that promise them the largest margins.
    # Billing is usually bar-coded.

    Here are some disadvantages:

    # You cannot walk to them to buy only one or two products-the corner store is perfectly suited to this task,unless one lives next to a supermarket.
    # ‘Fresh’ produce is usually not fresh ๐Ÿ˜ฆ
    # Instead of selling locally manufactured goods/locally grown food products,some of them stock very low quality goods made by the fire-breathing Dragon ๐Ÿ˜ก I avoid stores that shamelessly promote ‘foreign’ products over ones that are locally manufactured/food products made from local crops.I always prefer goods that carry the ‘Made in India’ tag ! I hate low quality goods dumped on us by anyone,especially the Dragon ๐Ÿ˜€

    Inflation is also caused by other ‘global free market’ factors that are beyond the control of our governments.I hope RBI’s measures along with the strategic grain reserves (in addition to the expected bumper harvest) being planned by the government help in reducing inflation as it hits the poor the hardest.

    Bio-fuels are great if they are produced from crops grown on wasteland,like bio-diesel extracted from jatropha and pongamia or bio-ethanol made from sugarcane waste.

    Converting corn into bio-ethanol or diverting land meant for food crops to grow bio-fuel crops is a factor that is largely responsible for the rising food prices all over the world.

  10. April 16, 2008 7:35 pm

    The existence of supermarkets is predicated on the ubiquity of the automobile. centralized food distribution works when ‘consumers’ have ease of transport of foodstuffs from distribution source and home. Whenever iI go to the local supermarket it is obvious that elderly people, and people wilth lesser means, who have no independent means of transport, like a personal vehicle, are limited in the efficiency of their purchases. While the quality of the meats they buy is predictably uniform and inspected, produce is of lesser quality having come from far-away distributors (read California, Mexico, Chile, overseas) In the summertime it is a particular pleasure to go to a farmer’s stall and buy fresh produce – the quality is unmistakably superior to supermarket produce. food production is so far removed from the awareness of an average suburbanite, such as myself. it is when massive shortages manifest themselves, such as is beginning to right now, that thoughts about the source and distribution of life-sustaining foodstuff come into prominence. The average super-market consumer is a sheep-like creature, I am no exception, and is at the mercy of un-named others. Trading efficiency, and ease of acquiring stuff is a poor trade-off for all people along the source-product continuum. No easy answers to be had. G

  11. April 16, 2008 8:25 pm

    best thing about markets are that there is no one behind you trying to help you even when you don’t need any of their help, I hate it when sales people keep following us within a shop

  12. April 16, 2008 8:38 pm

    I think I have not listed the advantages of the friendly neighbourhood corner shops in my previous comment.Here they are:

    # They give you the best discounts if you are a regular customer,not possible with supermarkets.
    # If one is a regular customer,one becomes a friend of the shop-owner and they will even take back products (replace) if we are not happy with them,as regular visitors are very important to their success.Supermarkets/superstores really do not care about regular visitors and treat everyone in the same cold manner.
    # There is one shop-owner selling peripherals who I know quite well as I am a regular visitor to his shop and he speaks my language,so he lends me his own tools (not the ones meant to be sold to others) if I want to use it for a day or two so I am saved the trouble of buying goods that I use only very rarely.I don’t think any supermarket/superstore will ‘lend’ you goods free of cost at any cost !

  13. April 16, 2008 8:59 pm

    Other than the benefits you have mentioned Nita,Supermarkets in Delhi provide the free home delivery facility also.

  14. April 16, 2008 10:44 pm

    Dinsan, as you said there are pros and cons to everything and I think most people land up using both!

    Vishesh, if the supermarkets grew their own stuff, that would be absolutely great!๐Ÿ™‚ Then I think everyone will stop shopping the neighborhood store!

    Raj,
    thanks for the detailed pros and cons. As you said, a kirana shop is s ideal if one has a good rapport with the retailer but somehow this has never worked for me. About fresh vs not so fresh, my experience is that supermarkets do sell fresh stuff. Not all I agree, but I am an expert at checking out the freshness of vegetables and don’t touch the stale stuff. At times if I am not satisfied I won’t buy. About foreign stuff, well one has a choice. I too find some of the fruits even from the US are bland and tasteless or sour, and I only buy Simla apples, not washington.

    Suburban thanks. After reading your comment I realise how different life is there. Over here it is difficult to get farm fresh produce. I have one source opposite my house, but he is erratic in his supply. The smaller vegetable and fruit sellers do not necessarily sell fresher produce as compared to supermarkets. In fact there is one supermarket which I use regularly (D-Mart) which sells amazingly fresh vegs and fruits, fresher than the smaller shops. Actually where these smaller shops are concerned, I have been cheated far too often and therefore avoid them. Anyway I would like to frequent a shop which sells me farm fresh produce, but so far I have found that supermarkets (not all) sell the best stuff and variety too.

    Rambler, this usually doesn’t happen in a decent supermarket. I have never experience this either at D-Mart of Shoprite where I shop frequently. Recently I went to Hypercity in Malad. It was a great shopping experience. No one even looks at you!

    Prerna, I have heard that some in Mumbai too provide this service but I have not used it. I think D-Mart does.

  15. April 17, 2008 2:07 am

    Omg When did you go to Egypt? Just looking at the FlickR fotos. I just got back from there this week.

  16. April 17, 2008 2:35 am

    i think both large format like supermkts and the municipal mkts and the local kirana have their space and their niche
    i think all of them should survive so that the consumer wins thru competition

    plus dont think that just because they are big they are cheap
    big industrialists like bharti / reliance love it cause their margins are great

    there are vendors in places like crawford mkt who beat the supermarkets at the price game … consistantly

    i had rereviewed rfresh anew and lo the prices r up – they are head to head with mkts and retail vendors
    infact some dept stores price grains and pulses a lot lower than the likes of subhiskha and rfresh n bbazar

  17. April 17, 2008 5:30 am

    When I go shopping, I want to enjoy some time on my own, looking at stuff and not really looking, you know …. just browsing and whiling away my time, thinking of other stuff… i can’t get this freedom in my local grocer’s shop… (I’d better not!!๐Ÿ˜€ )
    and moreover, supermarkets are more often then not the one-stop shop nowadays… they carry everything i would ever need.. .no need to run from one store to the other for cheeni and dal..!๐Ÿ˜€

  18. April 17, 2008 6:25 am

    Sometimes, or should I say often, the attempted cure is more dreadful than the disease. This is so true in surgery and economics.
    The problem of inflation is not as painful as the Government’s response to it is going to be. The problem is that inflation is easily visible and identifiable in the short term. The effects of bad controls are long-term and beyond the understanding of the average consumer/voter…..

  19. April 17, 2008 7:28 am

    Roop, I know you went to Egypt because I have been reading your posts on my reader.๐Ÿ™‚ In fact I had planned to ask you about your trip. You will see me on your blog soon. You can read about my experiences here. Our Egypt holiday has been our best so far.

    Prax, did I say anywhere that I went to supermarkets because they were cheap?๐Ÿ™‚ Sure, there are some vendors which are cheaper, but I can never trust their quality. Also I have never shopped at Crawford market, which i believe is some sort of wholesale market. vendors and shops near my house are expensive and more so than supermarkets. In any case its not just the price I go there for – its the professionalism, the atmosphere, the availbility etc.

    Yaake, you are right. I too like privacy, and like to shop on my own. I am extremely uncomfortable with local shops, although I know many people prefer it. I still think the biggest plus with local shops is that they home deliver, which is one facility I would never use unless I am sick.

    Rambodoc, know what you mean. This govt. is planning to take short term measures and we know why! Elections are round the corner!

  20. Prax permalink
    April 17, 2008 9:33 am

    true , very true
    the convenience n ambiance is the biggest pull
    i was just making a comparison and referring to ur middlemen being cut out argument – that too with branded goods
    not the vegis and unbranded goods

    Rdoc is correct just yesterday i was commenting and discussing with ankur on the govt policy on stock chat
    chidambaram forgot about his inflationary budget n policy just so as to attempt that 10% gdp growth – something which he couldn’t achieve no wonder now we have galloping inflation rate which has almost doubled in3 mths

  21. April 17, 2008 10:38 am

    While large supermarkets do have some advantages, what’s lost in the bargain is the excitement of a subzi mandi that I used to accompany my dad to. Plus having a personal relationship with the shopkeepers instead of anonymous employees/drones at a supermarket dressed alike. Here in the US, farmer’s markets and Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) are becoming more popular, and give an opportunity to consumers to meet the farmers, learn a bit about farming and get fresh produce picked hours before, and not the cosmetic (and not so fresh) produce found in most supermarkets. Farmer’s markets and CSAs provide an opportunity to connect with the food we eat and get to know the farmers – though modern economic theories are quite incapable of calculating the cost of such intangibles.

  22. April 17, 2008 8:26 pm

    Amit, thanks. Its interesting isn’t how we in India are starting to adopt ways that the west is getting to see the disadvantages of? But anyway here the contact between farmer and customer is negligible, there are hardly any farmers selling their produce directly. That would indeed be an ideal situation and I had no idea that it was happening in the west. Here we are a long way off from that and I think partly it is because people want jobs. There aren’t enough jobs for uneducated people and by trading in vegs they become their own entrepreneurs. But my experience with these adhoc middlemen hasn’t been good. I have been cheated far too often. As I said it is because we have moved a lot all over India, and at times we have been in one place for just a year! At times 2 years and even in our longest stint in Bangalore (4 years) we changed houses twice, which means we lived in 3 different places. It gets difficult if one has 2 kids, a job and a busy husband! thank God for Nilgiris.๐Ÿ™‚

  23. April 17, 2008 8:49 pm

    Nita, just wanted to clarify something – I think my first comment wasn’t clear.๐Ÿ™‚
    Supermarkets are convenient – not everyone can go to the farmer’s market which happens only on specific weekdays here in Boston. So, it’s not that supermarkets are disadvantageous – they serve a need.
    I’m not much familiar with the history of farmer’s markets in the US, but I think they have been a fixture for a long time now – it’s only recently that they have become more popular as people like MIchael Pollan have started writing in the mainstream about food issues.

  24. April 17, 2008 11:11 pm

    I dont agree with the argument that supermarkets are cheaper for the customer because there are less middlemen involved. The supermarket has an incentive to pass on the savings to the consumer only so long as there is competition. If the market were to be entirely dominated by a few supermarkets, then the stores will start deciding the price, and the savings will only increase their own profitability.

  25. April 18, 2008 2:11 am

    Nita, I remember shopping at a supermarket near my house in Calcutta, but it soon got shutdown because of the locality. There were too many independent shop owners and the supermarket couldn’t survive. People are under the impression that the small shops cost less. But this is actually not the case. I was reading an article where it was written that the prices of vegetables/fruits etc. are cheaper in supermarkets because the owners can afford to take a loss in this area and make up for it in other goods like shampoo, soap etc. But a small shop owner cannot afford to sell fruits/veggies for a lower price because of the nature of the business. He has no other area to pass on the cost to!

    On one of my recent visits (around 7-8 months back), even I noticed that the prices in supermarkets are much cheaper- maybe even 30-40 paise cheaper for each packaged good, but the savings do add up if we shop often, doesn’t it?๐Ÿ™‚

    Supermarkets are clearly the way to go! Here, we have different kinds of grocery stores. There is Walmart which is at the bottom of the ladder and is quite useful for buying durable goods from reputed companies, because I know that I can buy it for less there and not worry about the quality. Then there are other stores like Wild Oats (very good for organic food and other fresh stuff), Trader Joes and Dierbergs, Schnucks etc. that cater to richer crowd. But the food quality is awesome and the fruits last for a very long time! The apples that I buy don’t get rotten for at least a month! Can you beat that? What’s the point of buying fruits from cheaper stores when i know that they will have to be consumed in a week’ time, else they will get spoilt?

    Sorry too long a comment, but I can talk a lot more. Supermarkets are good for the Indian economy and I hope that more retail chains come out in the future. Sorry if I sound like a hard core capitalist. But this is the truth. It’s more hygienic that way too. Plus, people will get more choices.

  26. April 18, 2008 2:55 am

    Where I shop depends on what I need and how much, time of day, and where I am at the time I decide to do so.

    I agree with Lekhni. The big town/small city in which I live has 3 supermarkets and a “Hel-mart” Super Center. The convenient store-gas station-grocers’ goods tend to cost more, but they have to make their money somehow. Only a few of them have a limited selection of produce, dairy, and meats. One pays for the convenient location of right down the block and no crowd.

    Where I live is pretty ideal. Around the corner is a health food/organic co-op that gets its produce and dairy from local farmers. People often bring their own containers for grains, spices, etc. to fill with as much or as little as desired. Instead of paying $8 for cloves, one pays .50- for the same amount. Behind my block is a farmers’ market .

    There are some folks who sell their extra produce in stalls in front of their homes. They have prices listed and business is done on the honor system.

    As Joss mentioned earlier, I can decrease food miles and packaging, while knowing my shopkeeper and supporting local people/businesses.

  27. April 18, 2008 3:28 am

    But the food quality is awesome and the fruits last for a very long time! The apples that I buy donโ€™t get rotten for at least a month! Can you beat that? Whatโ€™s the point of buying fruits from cheaper stores when i know that they will have to be consumed in a weekโ€™ time, else they will get spoilt?

    You might want to read Nita’s post “Ageing is not a disease”๐Ÿ˜‰

    The reason those apples LOOK “fresh” and don’t spoil is with the help of chemicals. Food is supposed to be eaten fresh when it has more nutritional value. The obsession with produce (fruits and vegetables) looking pretty is just an extension of the thinking that people have to look good using botox and what not. Increasing shelf-life of food has led to the use of trans-fats and HFCS in processed food, and we all know what the results – and health costs associated with that – are. One has to have a degree in Chemistry just to decipher all the chemicals that are listed in the ingredients of any processed “food.”

    And if supermarkets drive small businessmen out of business, how is that more choices? That’s forcing people to shop only at supermarkets and is in fact, less choices.

  28. Vivek Khadpekar permalink
    April 18, 2008 6:26 am

    Nita:

    //…Its interesting isnโ€™t how we in India are starting to adopt ways that the west is getting to see the disadvantages of?//

    It’s interesting isn’t it that that statement (even with a question mark at the end) should be made by you, who see nothing but unalloyed good in everything that spells Capitalism with a capital ‘C’ ?๐Ÿ™‚

    //…here the contact between farmer and customer is negligible, there are hardly any farmers selling their produce directly…//

    You may be right in the matter of grains and pulses, but so far as vegetables and fruit go, there is a good deal of direct transaction of producers from periurban areas with inhabitants of outer urban areas. It is not very visible because, unlike a market, it is spatially dispersed and is limited to a few hours of activity in the morning and late afternoon. And of course it does not penetrate to the heart of big cities.

    Lekhni:

    //…The supermarket has an incentive to pass on the savings to the consumer only so long as there is competition. If the market were to be entirely dominated by a few supermarkets, then the stores will start deciding the price…//

    Amit:

    //… if supermarkets drive small businessmen out … how is that more choices? Thatโ€™s forcing people to shop only at supermarkets and is in fact, less choices…//

    Thanks a million, Lekhni and Amit, for pointing out to this quintessentially predatory, neck-wringing truth about corporate capitalism. Nothing can be further from its vested interests than a genuinely “free market” or “perfect competition”. Those terms exist only in outdated economics textbooks.

  29. April 18, 2008 7:28 am

    Amit, everything has its plus points and negative points. We can twist the finger anyway we want. I don’t think food that remains fresh for a lesser amount of time is purer either. And let’s not even talk about organic stuff! I don’t see how we can use trans-fat etc. for veggies and fruits. You seem to have confused bottled food with fresh fruits/veggies.

    And if supermarkets drive small businessmen out of business, how is that more choices? Thatโ€™s forcing people to shop only at supermarkets and is in fact, less choices.

    You are talking like a socialist here. Small businessmen don’t necessarily offer more choices. Any supermarket will have a larger variety. Don’t tell me that you didn’t find a bigger aisle of potato chips, detergent soaps, 5 types of apples etc. in bigger grocery stores! Small shops cannot afford to keep so many things because of the limited clientele and the cost structure of the business. I can write an entire thesis on it.

  30. April 18, 2008 7:29 am

    Oh, and one doesn’t need to have a degree in chemistry to understand all those chemicals/organic compounds. My 12th standard knowledge and general common sense is enough. Probably some people need 3 more years to learn all that. Not me.

  31. April 18, 2008 9:30 am

    Amit, everything has its plus points and negative points.

    Ruhi, which I’d stated in my very first comment. You probably missed it.

    We can twist the finger anyway we want. I donโ€™t think food that remains fresh for a lesser amount of time is purer either. And letโ€™s not even talk about organic stuff!

    Do you have a point here?

    I donโ€™t see how we can use trans-fat etc. for veggies and fruits. You seem to have confused bottled food with fresh fruits/veggies.

    No I haven’t. Read my comment one more time. I am talking about both – and I was careful to mention produce (which refers to fruits and vegetables) and processed – not bottled – food (chips, cookies etc.). The thinking is the same in both cases – to artificially prolong the shelf-life of food by adding chemicals.

    You are talking like a socialist here. Small businessmen donโ€™t necessarily offer more choices.

    Labels are unnecessary and irrelevant here. If by choices, you meant a choice for a consumer to choose a shop – local grocery shop or supermarket etc. then my statement stands.

    But in your latest comment, you seem to talk of more choices of stuff to buy at a single shop. Yes, in that case, a supermarket will offer more choices than a local store. And so what of it? Is that the single criteria for deciding whether a supermarket is better?

    And I have no doubt that you can write a thesis here, but how that’s relevant to the discussion went over my head. Forgive my lack of smarts here.๐Ÿ˜‰

    Oh, and one doesnโ€™t need to have a degree in chemistry to understand all those chemicals/organic compounds. My 12th standard knowledge and general common sense is enough.

    When you think of cake, the ingredients should be flour, sugar, oil, leavening agent (salt, baking soda, baking powder), eggs and chocolate.

    Here’s a list of ingredients from Entenmann’s snack-bar/cake (source: food facts

    INGREDIENTS: Wheat Flour Bleached, Sugar, Chocolate Chips, Chocolate Liquor, Chocolate Liquor Processed with Alkali, Cocoa Butter, Butter Oil, Soya Lecithin, Flavor Artificial, Egg(s), Vegetable Shortening Partially Hydrogenated, Soybean(s) Partially Hydrogenated, Cottonseed Partially Hydrogenated, Canola Partially Hydrogenated, Chocolate Powder, Dextrose, Milk Non-Fat, Corn Syrup, Cocoa Processed With Alkali, Salt, Cornstarch Modified, Baking Soda, Sodium Citrate, Gellan Gum, Carob Bean Gum, Guar Gum, Xanthan Gum, Propylene Glycol Monoester, Mono and Diglycerides, Sodium Phosphate, Sodium Stearoyl Lactylate, Potassium Sorbate, Calcium Sulphate (Sulfate), Caramel Color, Calcium Phosphate

    So, what does your 12th standard knowledge and general common sense tell you about understanding the highlighted ingredients, what are they doing in a cake, and what they do once they enter the digestive system and how they affect our bodies and metabolism in the short-and-long run?๐Ÿ™‚

    Though it’s quite possible that the 12th standard chemistry syllabus in Indian high schools has been updated when you were in school, from when I was. I don’t recognize any of the ingredients that I indicated in bold. Or maybe you’re just a smart cookie, pardon the pun.๐Ÿ˜‰

    If you look at most packaged food (Twizzlers, for example), they’ll have bright-and-shiny pictures of fruits on the package (Strawberry, Cherry etc.), but when you take a look at the ingredients, there’s no fruit to be found, though you’ll find artificial flavors which give it a bit of taste of a fruit. That’s not food, that’s chemicals.

    YMMV, but I care about what I put into my body, and this concoction of chemicals is not food, and I wouldn’t eat it if I have a choice.

  32. April 18, 2008 9:46 am

    Ruhi, another aspect of supermarkets is the amount of (and many times unnecessary) packaging that all the food (other than produce) comes in.

    If you’re interested, I’d invite you to check out the book (if you haven’t already) “Fast Food Nation” and couple of them by Marion Nestle regarding food industry. food politics
    Michael Pollan is another author who writes about food. His website is at michaelpollan.com

  33. April 18, 2008 9:53 am

    Amit, I wish I had all the time in this world to argue with you online. Unfortunately, I don’t. I’ve emailed Nita and she probably knows what I’m talking about. I don’t want to take your bait, because even if I spend 30 minutes typing out a comment there, you’ll write another one and the process won’t end. And, unfortunately, time is very precious at this juncture in my life. So sorry if my comment hurt you unnecessarily. Certainly didn’t mean to do so. I still remember the “conversation” that we had in her Tata Nano post and I don’t want to indulge in a similar conversation.

    Arguing online just for the sake of it is not my idea of fun.

    Good luck.

  34. April 18, 2008 9:54 am

    Another thing- You win! Hope that makes you happy. No ego issues at my end!

  35. vish permalink
    April 18, 2008 10:03 am

    How do they manage to recover the following if we think they pass on all the benefit to the customers?

    1. Cost of managing facilities including centralized air-conditioning?
    2. Advertisements including those glossy hand outs
    3. Salaries and other amenities to the staff
    4. Computer consumables and related overheads
    5. Wastage (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Freeganism)

    What I find is, few items are cheaper that are normally advertized and the discounts are loaded on others plus normally we end up buying lot of junk as well! You take your kids, you spend a few more hundreds/thousands.

  36. April 18, 2008 10:10 am

    Lekhni, ofcourse not all supermarkets are cheap and as you say competition is necessary. I am all for competition and in fact today in India at least there are so many supermarkets an malls coming up in cities that some are closing down. Competition keeps everyone in check, including the cheating small shop-keepers.

    Ruhi,
    yes you are right, people have been under the impression that small shops charge less, but I think this view is now changing. Supermarkets too are becoming more efficient. But I notice that people who stay in one place for a very long time, say 10 years or more, tend to develop a relationship with some neighborhood grocer and tend to shop from there, in India at least. I think that’s because so far there aren’t so many supermarkets around and the shop is closer. What with the traffic and all, people prefer to walk down and have stuff delivered. I never had the luxury of staying put in one place for long and in any case I was impatient with these small shops and plus I have been cheated far too often for me to like them Some of them are also lecherous.๐Ÿ™‚ I love interacting with the sweet boys and girls who work at supermarkets, they are bright and eager eyed and though they may not recognize you again, each time they are helpful. That is my experience.

    Mish, as you said a lot depends on where you live and what lifestyle you have. As Prax said earlier, both convinience stores and large supermarkets have their own niche and both will and should survive.

    Vivek,
    interacting with farm produce directly is uncommon, as you yourself have said. Anyday I would prefer that!
    Also you own prejudice is evident when you say that I am someone “who sees nothing but unalloyed good in everything that spells Capitalism with a capital โ€˜Cโ€™ ? Sure, you are speaking lightly as your smilie proves but if it weren’t for that smilie I might have got offended as you know it isn’t true. In fact I would say it is you who sees “unalloyed good in everything that spells Socialism with a capital ‘S'”๐Ÿ˜€

  37. April 18, 2008 10:11 am

    Ruhi, a conversation is not the same as arguing. Perhaps your choice of word to label our interaction is illuminating in itself.

    And I’m neither happy nor sad, nor hurt, nor looking to “win.” I’m simply presenting my points in response to your comments. There can be a difference of opinion, and that’s fine.

  38. April 18, 2008 11:14 am

    Now now people, leave the arguments aside. Just tell me, have anybody ever purchased vegetables and fruits from local farmers who take a bucketful and sit in Subji Mandi or similar places.
    If you haven’t then let me tell you one thing. These farmers, handpick(literally) the Subji and Fruits from their own farm and take them directly to the Subji Mandi. You need some practice to identify these farmers from bunch of vegetable RESELLERS. But if you know what to look for, you can get vegetables which are unearthed only 1-2 hours back and not 1-2 days (preserved in storage).
    Anybody got my point?

  39. April 18, 2008 5:28 pm

    Ohhh….the comments section is quite HOT.๐Ÿ™‚
    Well, I am the “other” Amit, just to distinguish myself.๐Ÿ™‚
    When I was in Delhi, there was a(its still there actually) local shop from where I used to go and buy everything. Now here in Chennai, I am so used to supermarkets that I found it very awkward(when I went to Delhi recently) to go to that local shop and ask for something.๐Ÿ™‚ Guess, things are changing. Supermarkets certainly rids you of “standing/shouting/waiting” and they are airconditioned too.๐Ÿ˜‰

  40. April 21, 2008 5:48 am

    Nita, I came across this in today’s newspaper and thought I’d share it here๐Ÿ™‚

    big fans of the farm team

    Amit, thanks for that interesting link. I went through it. wish we had such organised initiatives here. – Nita.

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