Letters, December 17 2021

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Co-op food pricing policy

An open letter from deputy convener of Tarbert and Skipness community council Peter Bates to Steve Murrells, Co-op group chief executive officer; Scottish Co-op representatives; and copied to Argyll and Bute MSP Jenni Minto.

Dear Mr Murrells,

Tarbert Co-op is the main food shop for everyone in Tarbert and those who live nearby.

The next nearest Co-op, only slightly bigger, is in Lochgilphead which is a 29-mile round trip.

The other larger shops, Tesco etc, are in Campbeltown, a 76-mile round trip; or Oban, a 102-mile round trip where there is a Tesco and both an Aldi and a Lidl.

Tesco does not deliver to Tarbert.

The Co-op has a virtual monopoly in this area of Argyll.

Due to the distance and time involved everyone in the village shops in the local Co-op. Not everyone has the ability to get out of Tarbert to do their shopping. The Tarbert Co-op is therefore a lifeline shop. It is not a convenience shop.

The prices in the local Co-op are exceedingly high in comparison to Tesco and others.

Is the Co-op willing to address the price differential between the Tarbert Co-op and Tesco?

I fervently hope you will.

I have been contacted by residents in Pitlochry, Bute, Mull, Skye and Lochgilphead and there will be many other places too in rural Scotland where the Co-op pricing structure is considered a problem.

Tarbert Co-op has de-stocked several items over the past year ie wholemeal brown flour. But you can get these in the Lochgilphead Co-op.

Three times over the last two weeks ‘essentials’ have not been on the shelves in the Tarbert Co-op but with a drive to Lochgilphead they are readily available on its Co-op shelves.

It is not green to have to do a 29-mile car journey for essentials. But that is what the lack of stock in the Tarbert Co-op is forcing myself and other residents of Tarbert to do.

The Co-op has also replaced many branded items with its own products which are nowhere near as good – bread and Brussels paté spring to mind.

The Co-op is not helping to keep the cost of living down and this is pricing rural living out. It is particularly hard-hitting for those less mobile, non-car owners and the elderly.

To clarify my annoyance at the prices charged in the Tarbert Co-op and other Co-ops, the excellent hard-working local management and staff at the Co-op in Tarbert are a big part of our local community; they are all very helpful and kind.

They have no control over the Co-op’s pricing and stocking policy of goods, this is decided by the board and executive in Manchester.

It is not my intention that the staff in the Tarbert Co-op be given a hard time regarding the prices of goods, as this is not something that is in their power to alter.

The Co-op bosses in Manchester need to realise that the Tarbert Co-op and other Co-ops in rural locations are not convenience stores. These Co-ops are often the only store for miles and are therefore lifeline stores.

If the Co-op board in Manchester does not understand this, then it does not understand the communities it is serving.

The Co-op’s core values as stated on the Co-op website are:

Principles more valuable than profits.
No-one should profiteer out of a community’s need to access basic foods.
Please address this problem.

Yours sincerely,

Peter M Bates, deputy convener, Tarbert and Skipness Community Council