Somerfield sidelines ethics for new focus

By Anita Awbi

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Supermarket Somerfield Marketing

Britain's fifth largest supermarket chain Somerfield today
announced a new advertising campaign with the slogan "giving you
what you want", but has taken the unfashionable step of sidelining
ethical practices.

Since the Apax consortium acquired Somerfield last December, the company's corporate and marketing strategies have been under review.

Now the new owners have struck out to change the focus of the chain, with the goal of making it the UK's leading convenience and local food retailer.

The firm has axed its membership with the Ethical Trading Initiative (ETI), ended its Saver Card loyalty scheme and will reposition its stores to meet rising demand for late-night convenience retail.

A new marketing strategy aims to cement the company's 3.6 per cent UK grocery market share, while focusing on a no-fuss approach to meeting consumer needs.

On May 6 Somerfield pulled out the ETI scheme -- which the likes of Tesco, Marks and Spencer and Sainsbury's all support -- to re-consider its "short and medium term business priorities".

The ETI provides a forum for large buying companies to tackle the complexity of ethical trade alongside union and non-governmental organisations.

As a member of ETI, Somerfield made a commitment to adopt the ETI code and apply these principles in its business dealings with its suppliers.

Somerfield was an active member of the Temporary Labour Working Group, which successfully lobbied the UK Government to introduce new statutory controls to help stamp out exploitation of temporary workers in the food industry.

"We hope that Somerfield will remain committed to improving the conditions of the workers around the world that grow, pick, manufacture and pack the products they sell,"​said the ETI.

Meanwhile, demand for ethically-sourced goods is rising in the UK. A recent study by the Co-operative Bank suggests spending on ethical food, including organic, fair trade and free range, was up to £4.1bn in the 2004-5 period, from £3.7bn (€5.4bn) in 2003.

This prompted Melanie Howard, from the Co-op's research partner Future Foundation, to say the results should serve as a "clarion call"​ to business and government to take the upward trend in ethical consumerism very seriously.

Late last year the European Commission approved the takeover of Somerfield by the Apax consortium, following months of speculation surrounding the future of the chain.

Somerfield accepted a £1.1bn from the consortium which includes Iranian property tycoon Robert Tchenguiz, private equity firm Apax Partners, investment bank Barclays Capital and four of Somerfield's executive directors, including chief executive Steve Back.

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