The rise and rise of Tesco divides opinion

Supporter Richard Okill outside the new Tesco store in Pier Street, Lee-on-the-Solent
Supporter Richard Okill outside the new Tesco store in Pier Street, Lee-on-the-Solent
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They’ll sell you everything from a tin of value baked beans to a fitted kitchen – but the rise and rise of Britain’s favourite supermarket is not everyone’s cup of tea.

In the past 20 years Tesco has revolutionised the way we shop – from out-of-town megastores to neighbourhood Express convenience stores, it has come to dominate our lives.

For those who want the convenience of shopping for fresh food at all hours, the company has been a godsend.

But for others, mainly independent traders, the inexorable progress of Tesco has come to exemplify the end of retailing in the High Street as we had once known it.

The company now has more than 2,700 shops in the United Kingdom. That figure rises to more than 5,300 worldwide when you add its outlets in countries as diverse as China, Poland, Thailand, Hungary and South Korea.

With its Clubcard, petrol filling stations, self-service checkouts and home deliveries, it might have changed the face of shopping here, but there are people who think its aggressive expansion is too much.

Earlier this year the opening of a new Bristol store sparked riots. That was an extreme case.

However, a less-violent, but well-organised band of protesters, did score a victory in the pretty Herefordshire town of Ledbury last month.

The pressure they put on Tesco and its plans for a 33,000sq ft superstore on an industrial site on the edge of the town, forced the giant to withdraw its application shortly before it was due to be considered by councillors.

At Fareham, where Tesco is about to open its 49,300sq ft Extra branded store at Quay Street, the Co-op has decided to close its nearby shop in West Street on December 10.

The Co-op blamed the closure not on Tesco, but on its poor trading performance.

But it is a move which has not found favour with those who prefer to shop in smaller High Street-style stores.

John Vivian, of Madison Court, Fareham, says: ‘That Co-op is our local food store. Its closure means there won’t be any other fresh food stores in the town centre apart from the Tesco, and we won’t go there as a matter of principle. We want the Co-op to stay.

‘As part of Fareham and Gosport Friends of the Earth, we were always against Tesco opening here because we were worried about the impact on shops in the town.’

Tonight residents and traders will be voicing their concerns about another tentacle of the Tesco empire planned for the area – this time at Lee-on-the-Solent.

Permission has already been given for the Express on the corner of Pier Road and Marine Parade West.

Tonight Gosport Borough Council will debate whether to allow planning permission for a change to the store front design, air conditioning unit, and a cash machine.

Business owners and people who live nearby have been angrily protesting the proposals for some time.

The council has been sent at least 60 letters of objection and just two supporting letters.

There has also been a petition which has attracted 400 signatures from local residents who object to the supermarket.

The Lee Business Association argues that it will damage other shops if shoppers choose to use Tesco rather than independent retailers.

Rick Barter, a member of the LBA who runs The Book Shop, in High Street, says: ‘I think Tesco will be bad for us.

‘There is still one healthy shopping district in Gosport and that is Lee. I think this is the nail in the coffin for us.’

But Lee resident Richard Okill supports the new store.

He says: ‘There are a lot of old people who rely on the local shops, which are 20 to 50 per cent more expensive than the supermarkets.

‘For example, I went into the Co-Op and they were selling a small baguette for £1. I went into Asda they were selling big baguettes for 70p, two for £1.

‘I can understand the local traders being worried about the competition.

‘But they offer a personal service in their shops and I honestly don’t think they’ll be affected that much.’

Tesco, which makes about £5,000 profit a minute, has about 30 stores of varying sizes within Portsmouth, Havant, Hayling Island, Fareham and Gosport.

It has reported increasing profits every year for at least the past 13 years, despite global economic chaos and shoppers’ purse strings being pulled ever tighter.

However, it has just reported its worst performance in 20 years with a fall in sales, if not profits, in its half-yearly results.

Like-for-like sales excluding VAT and petrol declined by 0.5 per cent in the UK in the first half of this year – compared to a 1.9 per cent increase from its rival Sainsbury’s.

It is Tesco’s first like-for-like decline since 1991 at a time when consumers are cutting back to cope with high inflation and low wage growth.

However, in the past two decades it has marched on with its global expansion plan, with stores now in America, the Far East, Europe and across Britain.

There is not one postcode area in the country which does not boast a Tesco of one size or another.

It’s a far cry from when the company was first founded by Jack Cohen in 1919 as a collection of market stalls in the East End.

The expansion of the supermarket chain – which aims to have opened 600 more stores around the globe by the middle of next year – has courted controversy in recent years because of the perception that high street retailers die out when a supermarket moves in.

In 2006 Inverness was dubbed Tescotown after it was discovered that well over 50p in every £1 spent on groceries found its way into the city’s Tesco tills.

The new store in Lee-on-the-Solent will be an addition to the newly-opened Tesco at Rowner, Gosport and the shop under construction at Quay Street, Fareham.

The meteoric rise of Tesco started in the 1990s as it tightened its grip on the UK with more store openings and an aggressive marketing campaign.

It was all designed to overtake Sainsbury’s as the UK’s leading grocer.

That finally came in 1995 when the Tesco Clubcard was launched and since then the company has never looked back.