Sunday, April 25, 2010

Going downhill fast: the Co-op in north Wales

An open letter to the Co-operative Group 
I've been a Co-op supporter for many years. I have a Smile bank account and my phone is with the Phone Co-op. I approve of the ethical stance of the group and seek out the Co-op for food wherever I can.
But now, I can't. First, the Co-op in Porthmadog closed, several years ago. Now the Co-op in Pwllheli, after going down hill for years, has closed. The formerly excellent Co-op in Menai Bridge has become Waitrose. Where is the vibrant Co-op community which we're always hearing about in the Re:Act magazine? It seems to have died in my part of Wales. I know where the Co-op is alive and well: Scotland. I have been consistently impressed by the stores in places like Oban and Ullapool and even in remote outer islands like North Uist (Solas Co-op). Why the difference?
All we are left with in my area is the Somerfield store in Pwllheli which is even worse than the old Co-op... unless you just want junk food, junk musak belting out of speakers everywhere you go and don't give a fig for Fair Trade or organic or fresh local produce. I am disgusted by this downgrade of the Co-op principles and am going to try shopping in Lidl or Asda. Yet perhaps you can reassure me that things will improve? My checklist for a decent food supermarket is
  • it should stock a good range of Fair Trade products and promote them proudly
  • it should stock a good range of organic produce
  • local produce like cheese should be readily available (Spar in Pwllheli has always managed this whilst the former Co-op never stocked local produce, despite regular requests)
  • there should be NO background music. Other much larger supermarkets don't have it and the grotesque assumption that everyone likes fourth rate pop music is wrong. Those who like music constantly have their MP3 players to listen to their choice of music. The junk music the Somerfield Co-op is off-putting to many potential customers. (I have conducted a small survey on this.)

My wife and I run a small organic vegbox scheme. We have around 30 customers who have all, when asked, bemoaned the disappearance of the Co-ops in our area. There IS a demand for a decent Co-op store which, rather than dumbing down like the appalling Somerfield, is proud to promote ethical issues and abandons the ridiculous notion that loud music soothes customers.
It would be pleasing to have a reply which actually attempts to address each of these points rather than the usual anodyne cut and paste of a standard letter. Please, Co-op, be co-operative!

Best wishes

Bry Lynas