The case against Prunella Scales, the case against Jamie Oliver

| 1st September 2004
The most successful celebrity endorsement ever, Prunella Scales’ TV ads have added more than £2.2 billion to Tesco’s profts. And yet she says she really cares about the environment.

She was president of the CPRE from 1997-2002 and is now a face of the Woodland Trust. While you were president of the CPRE, your organisation launched a campaign against Tesco claiming that a planned store in Hadleigh ‘would be very damaging to local suppliers, generate traffic and have an impact on historic buildings and the vitality of the high street.’

Were you unaware of this action, or were you just unconcerned at the conflict of interest? You want ‘severe penalties’ for car commuters. Does the same apply to those people compelled to use their cars to go shopping in the out of town Tesco now that their local shops have shut down, unable to match its prices? Does it matter that three-quarters of supermarket customers now travel by car and that a typical out-of-town superstore causes £25,000 worth of congestion, pollution and associated damage to the community every week?

As departing president of the CPRE your farewell was an attack on planning laws. Have you read the lobbygate story concerning the string of ‘coincidences’ that connect a sizeable Tesco donation to the millennium dome and an alteration in a proposed Car Park tax that would have cost it £20 million? You are quoted as saying: ‘In our carelessness, we have flooded the night sky with light, so that many of us can no longer see the stars. But we can reverse this trend, quickly, cheaply and easily. It's time to bring back the night sky.’

How do you feel giant Tesco stores open 24 hours a day contribute to this trend? How do you think Tesco’s paying the lowest rates of any of the supermarkets to UK farmers helps in the ‘protection of rural England’? Just as he does in countless TV shows and cookery books, Jamie Oliver encourages Sainsbury shoppers to eat better food. The store even has a range of products that have quotes from Jamie on them. Last year you were a very vocal supporter of the campaign to stop the expansion of Stansted airport, which would have increased the noise levels near your new Essex home. You said: ‘Personally, I have no interest in politics, except in certain areas (where it concerns food for example) but I know that the feeling in the community is that if Stansted is chosen, it would have been chosen for the wrong reasons. It isn't just the beautiful countryside and the villages that will be destroyed by an extra runway, but also the quality of life for hundreds of thousands of people.’

Do you not think the massive growth in aeroplane traffic might have something to with supermarket global sourcing policies? You say you have no interest in politics unless it has something to do with food. In the last three years the value of food imported by air grew by nearly 50 per cent with fruit and vegetables the largest category of commodity being imported this way.

Does that count? At the Soil Association conference last year you said: ‘I love farmers markets and buying from small farms’. Do you think Sainsbury’s does? If so why is it so proud to declare that half its sales come from 100 suppliers and that half its suppliers have sales through it in excess of £10 million And why are only a third of its sales by value (£6 billion out of £18 billion) of British foods? Referring to the previous question, how many of the other £12 billion do you think might have come by plane?


You say you don’t take an interest in politics, but you have spoken out on GM before, telling ABC news: ‘Yeah. Well, it doesn’t sound right to me. Basically, you know, I’m a chef, I love eating food, I love making food. Things like GMO foods don’t really interest me. I mean, at the end of the day you’re cooking it, you’re putting it in your mouth and you’re swallowing it. And you don’t do that to many things, and it’s pretty personal stuff really. And we don’t know – there’s no evidence of what happens to it. You know at the end of the day you want good food, like stuff grown how it should be grown.’ Does it not concern you that Lord David Sainsbury, who is retiring as Tony Blair’s science minister at the next election in order to return to running the supermarket business, is one of the leading proponents in the UK for GM with major financial interests in companies developing the technology?

If you’d like to know more about your future boss, why not read his profile at http://www.lobbywatch. org/profile1.asp?PrId=116 On the same note, does it concern you that Sainsbury is still not able to confirm that its milk is all from cows fed on GM-free diets? In the Mirror earlier this year you attacked children’s junk food, calling Dairylea Lunches ‘just gum and crap, and processed meat which is just fucking donkey bollocks! There's so much shit in the industry these days.’

So why do you support a company that makes vast profits from selling them?

21 tricks of the supermarket trade
How supermarkets manipulate you into buying more than you need

1 Giving you a basket Supermarket research discovered 75 per cent of those who carry a shopping basket with them while they shop actually buy something, compared to only 34 per cent of those who don’t. So when a supermarket has a member of staff handing everyone a basket on their way in, this is not for your benefit, but theirs.

2 ‘Ripe and Ready’ fruit Because supermarkets want their fruit to last as long as possible on the shelf they make the suppliers pick it early, even though this means it won’t taste as good because the sugars won’t have properly developed. Having got us used to the idea that fruit is always hard when you buy it, they now charge us extra for the privilege of ripe fruit.

3 Irrational Pricing Irrational pricing is putting the price of items at say £4.99 instead of £5. The reason is based on memory processing time. Rounding upward involves an additional decision compared with storing the first digits. Furthermore, due to the vast quantity of information available for consumers to process, the information on price must be stored in a very short interval. The cheapest way to do so, in memory and attention terms, is by storing the first digits. Customers think they are getting a better deal than they in fact are.

4 Buy one Get one free ('BOGOF') Has been shown to increase purchases by up to 150 per cent. Unlike 50 per cent off, which actually does save money, 'BOGOF’ deals accustom us to consuming more of a product than we normally would, so that when the offer ends we are more likely to carry on buying more. And besides encouraging us to buy more than we really need – these offers hide a hidden cost to the producer of the product, as it is they, and not the supermarket, that is paying for this promotion. Supermarkets use it as a way of shifting stock that's not selling.

5 Children When Sainsbury launched cooking classes for children (for which parents pay £5) during the 2003 school holidays in selected stores, it pegged them to its Blue Parrot Café children’s brand which features self-styled healthier versions of children’s junk food such as chicken nuggets and pizza. Participating children went away with a Blue Parrot ‘goodie bag’ and a Blue Parrot apron, reminders that if they didn’t feel like cooking, they could always get their mother to pick up something ready-made at Sainsbury’s.

6 ‘Eye level is buy level’ Products positioned at eye height sell twice as well, so the more expensive products will often be put there. Look lower down the shelves and you may see cheaper alternatives. Likewise look where the unhealthy children’s products are positioned – at children’s eye level – it’s them they are selling to, not you. Adults are far more likely to buy something unhealthy their children pester them for, than something they see themselves.

7 Hard to compare weights. Similar products will be sold in differing weights making it hard to compare prices. 28p a pound for loose carrots may not seem much. How about £1.39 for 300g of crisp baby carrots in a sealed pack? As the weight of one is given in grams and the other in pounds, it is not easy to compare prices. (The 'crisp baby carrots actually cost £2.09 a lb, over 10 times as much as the loose carrots. Do they really taste 10 times better?)

8 Celebrity endorsement If a chef as fashionable as Jamie Oliver is approving your food, or an actress as beloved as Prunella Scales your prices, it lends credibility to a supermarket’s claims. Since starting work for Sainsbury, Oliver is reckoned to have boosted the stores profits by over £1.2 billion. Prunella Scale’s TV ads, meanwhile, have added over £2.2 billion to Tesco’s worth.

9 Known-value items Known Value Items such as bread, butter, milk and sugar bring customers into supermarkets and are invariably sold below cost to try to beat the competition (Tesco usually have 160 items for sale below cost). Also known as loss leaders, they sound like a good deal for customers (who know roughly what they cost and so notice any discounts). Don't be fooled. Supermarkets make up for this by raising prices on other items that we can’t remember the cost of.

10 New box, old product Tired of Chicken tikka massala? Why not try new regional speciality Keralan Massala chicken? The difference is all in the packaging.

11 Free samples You may not buy the product after tasting the sample offered to you, but your stomach will start releasing gastric juices, making you feel more hungry. And if you feel more hungry, you are more likely to buy more food, especially over-priced food you can eat as soon as you leave the store.

12 Reading habits People who read from left to right also scan shelves from left to right. Therefore the most expensive varieties of a given product will be found on the left, the cheaper on the right.

13 Music Over a two week period, French and German music was played on alternate days from an in-store display of French and German wines. French music led to French wines outselling German ones, whereas German music led to the opposite effect on sales. It’s not only music type that affects buying – the tempo matters too. We walk at approximately 90 paces per minute. Music slower than 90 beats per minute slows us down subconsciously, making us spend more time in the aisles.

14 Fake bargains Supermarkets promote a product at a price, alongside a higher price that you assume it’s been reduced from. They never actually sell it at the higher price – but because it appears to be a bargain, we buy it.

15 Value added products An apple costs 9p. But slice the apple, put it in a bag and sell it as ‘Apple bites’ and it costs 49p for less than half an apple. Who has so little time that they can’t slice and apple?

16 Walking distances In order to maximise shopper and product contact time, shops place the most popular items and brands in the middle of aisles, ensuring that from any direction the customer has to walk the furthest to reach them. Likewise, essentials, such as bread and milk are often found at the back of the shop. People have to walk past the rest of the produce to get to them, increasing the chance of impulse buys.

17 Savings schemes Since 1991 Tesco has run the Computers for Schools scheme, whereby tokens on certain products can be exchanged for computer equipment for local schools. However, as Ben Laurence wrote in the Observer: ‘Whilst the cost to Tesco is modest: customers have to spend £110,000 on groceries for a school to get a basic PC.’

18 Freshly baked bread (the smell of) Supermarkets don’t really bake their bread in store, they just finish it off. All the kneading and proving is done somewhere else. The supermarkets only defrost the dough and heat it up – at the point when the warm, comforting bread smells start.

19 Loyalty cards Or as the supermarkets want us to call them ‘Reward cards’. We do our shopping and they give us discounts off future purchases. What could be more generous than that? If it is such a giveaway why has Tesco managed to run its card scheme for the last eight years at no net cost to the supermarket – because we spend more money once we are loyalty card holders. First, 42 per cent of us spend more once we own the cards, perhaps under the mistaken logic that the more we buy, the more discounts we will get, and therefore the less we will spend. Second the purpose of the discount vouchers we are awarded is not to save us money, but to get us buying products we don’t normally buy. It’s like a drug dealer giving us a free hit to get us hooked.

20 Zone specific television Tesco’s new ‘Tesco TV’ plays different adverts at you depending on what zone of the store you are in. As 75 per cent of shopping decisions are made in the 10 feet before the product, this is marketing at its most powerful.

21 Pester power When you get to the till at Marks and Spencer (and other supermarkets, although M&S seem to be the worst) the shelves around the till are filled with sweets. Apart from tempting adults, they prove irresistible to children. As the parent is trying to sort out paying and packing, the child pesters them for sweets. Tired at the end of a stressful journey around the supermarkets, parents often succumb.

This article first appeared in the Ecologist September 2004


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