It was announced today that Tesco has bought the Giraffe chain of restaurants. This comes as part of a strategy by Tesco to buy itself into the ‘Independent’ retail market. Tesco is not alone, today we are witnessing an Invasion of the Brand Snatchers, the cynical policy of corporate giants to pose as independent retailers and swindle us into their customer base.
Tesco? You’re Having a Giraffe
Tesco is a FTSE100 company operating in 14 countries; it is a supermarket behemoth. Tesco is not just a grocer; it has moved into financial services with its new bank offering mortgages, insurance and loans. They employ half a million people. Tesco’s British profits fell 12.4% last year, the first fall in profits the goliath of groceries had suffered in 18 years. These profits were still £1.1bn though. In response, Tesco’s Chief Executive Philip Clarke has launched a £1bn facelift for its UK stores and a buyout of ‘trendy’ independent labels to snatch the non supermarket consumer out of the independent market and back into their clutches.
A Harris and Hoole coffee shop, with its exposed brickwork, low lighting and chalkboard menu’s looks, to all intents and purposes, to be a family run local coffee shop. Nowhere in the store does it mention that the chain is in fact 49% owned by Tesco. If you go to the website, you will see on its front page the following description of the firm:
“Harris + Hoole is a family affair – from our roots making artisan coffee on the back streets of London, we are using all of our coffee know-how to bring a whole new coffee experience to the high street.”
Only if you click the ‘Find out More’ link will you discover that Harris and Hoole are in fact, Tesco.
Tesco has now moved into the trendy food market by buying out Giraffe for £50m. It has also recently purchased the boutique Euphorium Bakery chain and is now setting about expanding it to dominate the streetscape.
Not content with drawing customers from the high street to the hypermarket, now Tesco wants to own the High Street too. But Tesco is not alone. There have been a number of independent brand sell offs in recent years. The deals stink of cynicism on the part of the corporate giants and rank hypocrisy on the part of the independent brands who literally sold out their values and principles.
Not So Innocent Smoothies
Innocent Smoothies – Your friendly, healthy drinks people, who talk colloquially on their bottles in a comedy font, sold their business to Coca Cola. Coke now owns 90% of the business, having taken its first 18% of the business back in 2009. These not so innocent smoothies are a front for a company with the exact opposite principles of the brand we are buying. Coca Cola is a corporation which has indulged in sponsorship of Nazi Germany, has hired far right militias to murder union activists in Columbia, has “caused serious depletion of the water resources of Plachimada (India), and has severely contaminated the water and soil”, and stands charged with marketing itself to children and contributing to the childhood obesity epidemic in the West.
One would struggle to find a more opposite ethos to that of Innocent, who purport to stand for all things five a day. One might imagine many Innocent customers would be the kind of people that would not buy a coca cola product; not only because they would not want it, but on principle too.
Yet, since 2009, buying an Innocent product meant buying a Coca Cola product and now with their 90% stake, Innocent customers will be handing their cash over to boost the profits of Coca Cola.
Richard Reed, one of three Cambridge University graduates who founded Innocent at the age of 26 in 1999, denied they were selling out. “Our aim was to make Innocent a global brand and take its ethical values to the world’s consumers. We decided that we would be able to do a better job of that with Coke.”
Whatever is takes to get to sleep at night on that whopping great pile of cash Mr Reed.
Green and Blacks Get Krafty
Green and Blacks shot up as an independent organic chocolatier providing fair trade, high quality chocolate to those sick of Cadburys and the other firms they could not trust. They were the winners of the UKs first ever Fair Trade designation. However, in 2005 the firm sold out to Cadburys for £20m. The owners were convinced they were handing their brand into good hands. Then Cadbury itself was purchased by £5bn conglomerate Kraft Foods. There is nothing fair trade or organic about Kraft Foods.
In its aggressive £11.6bn takeover of Cadburys, Kraft won over unions and staff to the buy-out by promising to keep open the Somerdale factory near Bristol, England only to announce its closure once the deal was signed. CEO Irene Rosenfeld received a 41% pay increase for her ‘exceptional role’ in the deal. Meanwhile, 400 people lost their jobs at Somerdale. Since then, 3,600 Cadburys workers have been told they face a three year pay freeze unless they opt out of the Cadburys pension scheme after a clause was discovered in employee contracts which meant Kraft couldn’t just close the pension scheme as it wished.
A Kraft Food buyer was recently found guilty of accepting bribes from a tomato supplier to gain their customer. In another case recently, workers at an Idaho’s largest dairy operation and Kraft suppliers were filmed stomping upon, kicking and hitting cows with metal rods. The milk in Green and Blacks chocolate and other products could have come from these abused cows. If one was left in any doubt of the importance of the Green and Blacks ethos to Kraft management, Trevor Bond, the company’s new head of individual country businesses in Europe, said recently:
“Green & Black’s is £40m out of a £1bn chocolate business [in the UK]. I would sell more Creme Eggs.”
Things do not bode well for Green and Blacks staff, producers or animal contributors receiving anything close to a fair trade with Kraft. So why on earth would Green and Blacks customers want to hand their money over to contribute to the growth of the Kraft Empire? They wouldn’t obviously, which is why most people have no idea they are handing money to Kraft, when they purchase Green & Blacks branded chocolate and foods.
Where Does This Leave the Consumer?
We are sick of not knowing what is in our food, we are sick of not knowing whether or not the producers of our food, clothing and goods are workers on a living wage or children in sweatshops, we are sick of finding out yet another horror story of corporate corruption, pollution, environmental damage and ignorance of human rights. We miss our local store where we knew the owner and the workers, who in turn knew the suppliers by name.
We saw an insufferable decline of the independent high street shops in the rise of the corporate giants. It is deception of the highest order for the corporations responsible to exploit the recent turn of the consumer back to the high street, by morphing themselves into the local stores we’ve come to miss.
In the wake of the horse meat scandal, the consumer was rightly castigated for their role in the demise of the food chain. But now it seems we not only need to mistrust the writing on the packet of the food we buy, but the writing on the signage of the stores we buy it in.
There is something truly macabre about this development as our world becomes a hall of mirrors where we are never quite sure if we can believe what we see.
We say we want our stores to be local, independent and ethical, so unethical corporate giants are simply appearing in our high streets, festivals and markets in drag. This is the ultimate summation of all things capitalism: the illusion of choice. The impenetrable hierarchy forces the consumer to turn detective simply to find out if the store, let alone the item purchased from it, are indeed as advertised.
Ethical Consumer – use this website to find out how you can continue to purchase the things you love, from a supplier who is ethically sound.