Tag Archives: Euro

 

According to the National Farmers Union it costs 28p to produce a litre of milk but the price paid to Farmers is 25p. That makes milk half the price of many bottled waters in supermarkets (Buxton or Highland Spring, about 50p/litre). Not surprisingly dairy farmers don’t relish the prospect of a 4.00am start for tough physical work, twice a day for a financial loss. Six of the eight in my area have thrown in the towel in the last ten years – plus both of the local milkmen.

There are more factors at work than supermarkets which are driving down prices

There’s nothing new about this trend. Anyone with a reasonable memory will remember the OFT inquiry into allegations of price-fixing between supermarkets and dairy suppliers – but there are more factors at work than supermarkets which are driving down prices.

Two aggrieved dairy farmers lead two (very well-behaved) cows down the aisles of Stafford Asda

July saw the latest skirmish between ‘Farmers for Action’ and Asda, Morrisons, Aldi and Lidl. Protests were staged outside distribution centres and in supermarket aisles. Two aggrieved dairy farmers lead two (very well-behaved) cows down the aisles of Stafford Asda. Farmers elsewhere filled supermarket trolleys with milk before abandoning them at the checkout because “I’ve changed my mind”. That’s a tactic used by 1970’s anti-apartheid campaigners protesting against South African ‘Cape Fruit’ exports.

“Staff call – Clean-up behind the cow in aisle five….”

The good guys are Marks & Spencer, Waitrose, Sainsbury and Tesco. They weren’t targeted because they guarantee a price which covers the cost of production. That message now seems to be acknowledged by the bad guys – Asda, Morrisons, Aldi and Lidl. They have – grudgingly – promised to pay more to avoid negative publicity and the cleanup after a cow in the aisle: “Staff call – Clean-up behind the cow in aisle five….”

Morrisons rep. smugly announced the company was launching a new ‘premium brand’ of milk costing 10p/litre more “to help support British Farmers”.

A hastily-arranged press conference called by Morrisons to announce their ‘Support for UK farmers’ was particularly cringeworthy. The company had initially refused to increase prices but did a swift U-turn after Asda confirmed that it would. The Morrisons rep. smugly announced the company was launching a new ‘premium brand’ of milk costing 10p/litre more “to help support British Farmers”. A journalist asked if Morrisons would still continue to sell their old, cheapo version as well. (Awkward silence from the rep.) So would the Company instead be passing it’s profit on the cheapo brand back to farmers? (A second awkward silence). Or would the company be doing anything apart from giving Shoppers an opportunity to subsidise farmers? This resulted in another awkward silence, the end of the press conference and the end of the Press relations officer.

There is a supply glut of milk because EU production quotas have ended

But the reasons behind the dispute are not as simple as just the supermarket price war. There is a supply glut of milk because EU production quotas have ended. The weather for production has been good and UK production has soared as has the demand from UK consumers. The volume sold has risen by 11% to 5.5 billion litres since 2007 BUT the value of sales has fallen from £3.5bn to £3.2bn.

“It’s the food producers that farmers should be criticising, not supermarkets”

A food industry commentator correctly pointed out: “It’s the food producers that farmers should be criticising, not supermarkets. Only 20% of liquid milk is sold via supermarkets – 80% goes into the food industry. UK production has soared which has driven down the wholesale price but food producers have still been able to find cheaper European supplies. The falling value of the Euro means they can buy abroad more cheaply thanks to the ending of quotas and the Russian ban on milk imports in response to post-Crimea sanctions. Combine the three factors and Europe is floating on milk. That’s the way the EU operates”. It’s a lucky farmer who has a bottled spring water source in his field.

‘Unexpected item in bagging area’

And talking of cows: Seeing a cow at the Asda checkout brings a whole new meaning to ‘Unexpected item in bagging area’. Supermarket assistants have to explain to dimwitted shoppers that sitting a baby in the bagging area triggers the warning and no, the announcement does not mean there’s horsemeat in your burgers. The pinch point for self-service is the speed at which shoppers can be herded through the checkouts (sorry about the pun) so ‘unexpected items’ are not welcome.

The most commonly-heard warning is the voice of former EastEnders actress Helena Breck

The most commonly-heard warning is the voice of former EastEnders actress Helena Breck (AKA Elizabeth Wilmott-Brown). She recorded the message for checkout manufacturer NCR in 2008 but confused shoppers now complain the warning is ‘smarmy and irritating’. Consumer research by checkout manufacturers has suggested alternatives. Those rejected to date allegedly include Joanna Lumley (‘too posh’) Victor Meldrew (‘too grumpy’) and Jimmy Nail (‘totally unintelligible’). The current favourite is Ray Winstone (‘nicely threatening’).

 

The Chancellor’s July budget from the all-new, all-Conservative government was disappointing for small businesses. George Osborne described it as ‘a budget for working people’ but not many were impressed. There were no new incentives for entrepreneurs or start-ups and the only rabbit he produced out of his hat was the ‘National living wage’ set at £7.20/hour from April 2016. But this was for over-25’s only with under-25’s still stuck with the lower ‘National minimum wage’. This was retained for under-25’s to ensure they can ‘secure work and gain experience’ i.e. not be priced out of the labour market. Despite this the independent Office for Budget Responsibility predicted job losses, particularly in the agricultural sector so in response George cut Corporation tax from 20% to 19% (from 2017) and increased the National Insurance ‘employment allowance’ which waives contributions from small businesses to the tune of £3,000 per annum.

Small businesses are deeply unimpressed

Research confirms small businesses are deeply unimpressed. Those in the retail sector consider this no substitute for the more, errrr…informal wage arrangements often seen in the Markets industry. They would far have preferred an increase to the Vat threshold – a very real disincentive to making the leap into Vat-registration.

The budget also contained proposals to review the old Chestnut of Sunday trading legislation

The budget also contained proposals to review the old Chestnut of Sunday trading legislation. Osborne suggested decision-making might be devolved to local Councils to support ‘bricks and mortar’ retailing versus it’s online competition. The arguments for and against are well-rehearsed – increased costs over 7-days without increased takings etc – but unfortunately his glamorous blonde colleague and Minister for Small Business, Anna Soubry MP (Con. Broxtowe, Notts.) forgot her job title before going public with the proposals. She should have consulted with a few more small business representatives before suggesting critics such as ‘Keep Sunday Special’ are “…harking back to a world that probably didn’t exist. Sunday was the most miserable day of the week”. She should, for instance have talked to the Federation of Retail Newsagents or Association of Convenience Stores. They rejected Osborne’s proposals, suggesting less than one in ten customers wanted changes. Other critics included ‘The Sun’ newspaper which – after ditching Page three’s ‘News in Briefs’ – let columnist Rod Liddle loose to sum it up nicely as ‘a wonderful excuse for me to buy yet more crap’.

Nor were the proposals well-received by two of the ‘Big four’ supermarkets. Tesco and Sainsbury own lots of Convenience store outlets which can stay open already, so don’t fancy opening expensive Supermarkets as well. Asda and Morrison though don’t have the same High Street presence so were enthusiastic. This proposal is now out for consultation so if you’d like to share your views about trading 7-days per week I’m sure Anna would like to hear from you. She can be emailed at: anna.soubry.mp@parliament.uk

What the report really highlights is a total lack of regulation in this important area

At about the same time the CMA (Competition and Markets Authority) confirmed it had found evidence supermarkets are misleading customers with price promotions – but the pricing guidelines mean the problem is more of a cockup than a conspiracy. This came after a 3-month enquiry triggered by a ‘Super complaint’ lodged by the Consumer Association magazine ’Which?’ The CMA confirmed although there was evidence of misleading pricing on the 40% of grocery sales on promotion at any one time, the problem is not widespread. Supermarkets generally take compliance with pricing seriously and the problems identified by ‘Which?’ are caused more by lack of clarity in the pricing guidelines. The CMA made some weak recommendations about price comparison data and ‘Was/Now’ promotions, where by law the period on offer of an ‘Is now’ price cannot exceed the period of the higher ‘Was then’ price. The industry-funded and entirely voluntary Retail Ombudsman suggested pricing guidelines need updating because “The problem is the current rules are merely guidelines, which present retailers with a lot of wriggle room. What the report really highlights is a total lack of regulation in this important area”. This sounds rather like the problems of food labelling and the impossibility of legislating for every possibility.

Meanwhile in the dysfunctional world of Euroland ..

Meanwhile in the dysfunctional world of Euroland the Germans played a game of blink – and lost. The unblinking Greek Prime Minister Aleksis Tsipras called the EMU’s bluff and after three (or was it four?) sets of ‘final negotiations’ agreed to some watered-down austerity measures in return for a bail-out of the Greek Euro. The Bundesbank smiled at the breakthrough through gritted teeth as the UK blocked it’s £1 billion contribution to the Euro Stabilisation Fund and City of London bankers stuck two fingers up at their rivals in Frankfurt. The Euro dropped to 72p from 97p in 2008 and although sterling is not yet back to it’s pre-financial crisis exchange rate, it is going the right way. Which is nice.

The German Chancellor reportedly arrived in Athens for the last round of emergency talks to be greeted by an officious Greek immigration officer armed with a clipboard and a list of questions: “Name?” he asked:“Angela Merkel” she replied. “Nationality?” he asked. “German” she replied. “Occupation?” he asked. “Nein – not yet” she snapped. ”First ve haf to talk……”

 

News-Indoor market hall main image 1024 pix

Identifying new lines is more important than ever nowadays whilst the wholesale industry continues to shrink as Supermarket Buyers bypass it and source product direct from the producers.

It’s that time of year when every Market business should be buying-in product for the New Year. All successful retailers rely on their Buyers to source new product and ‘refresh their offer’ on a regular basis and that means up to 12 months in advance. Identifying new lines is more important than ever nowadays whilst the wholesale industry continues to shrink as Supermarket Buyers bypass it and source product direct from the producers. Short shelf-life products to which you can add value by processing are less problematical than products where you’re reliant on what the wholesaler has in stock. Nowadays it is becoming more and more difficult to differentiate yourself from the competition and maintain a margin over the bulk discounters. Some new thinking may be overdue.

How about a romantic weekend break to visit some European Markets? There are excellent value Citybreak deals on offer from Easyjet and Wizzair to places like Krakow, Budapest and Barcelona. Take a long weekend to see what their Markets are selling and talk to the Traders. They almost always speak English and have a keen interest in what’s happening in the UK. Maybe you fancy opening a Polski Sklep or stocking-up with the seasonal goods seen on Budapest’s Christmas Market on Vorosmarty Square. Sourcing from abroad can still be profitable from countries like Poland and Hungary which have had the good sense to remain outside the Eurozone. My favourite is Budapest whose Central Market Hall offers a wonderful range of handicrafts, clothing and food all year round. It’s big and busy and at this time of year you can buy a live Carp to keep in your bath and fatten-up for Christmas, or a bushel of locally-picked wild mushrooms.

Foraging for wild mushrooms in the Autumn is a popular tradition in Central Europe – a bit like Elvering in Gloucestershire. But whether it’s Hungary or England you need proper instruction to identify the species before you wolf them down. Otherwise when you go down to the woods today you might have a very VERY big surprise. Ask Nicholas Evans, the best-selling author of ‘The Horse Whisperer’ who ended up having a kidney transplant and putting several members of his family on kidney dialysis. The police also take a keen interest in the cultivation of certain types (say no more) so there’s not mushroom for mistakes.

There are some 2000 species of mushroom in the UK of which 200 are delicious, 300 are very VERY bad for you while Scientists admit 1500 are ‘don’t knows’.

Information is available at various sites like www.foragingguide.com and www.rogersmushrooms.com but they have VERY big disclaimers and recommend you always put an uncooked sample to one side to help your hospital diagnose the problem.

We see a noticeable increase in poisoning cases as it is not always easy to differentiate between toxic and non-toxic species.

As the trend for organic, home-grown food has caught on many people have started foraging in their local woods for edible varieties. Dr John Thompson, director of the National Poisons Information Service in Cardiff has warned of the potential dangers involved: ‘At this time of year we see a noticeable increase in poisoning cases as it is not always easy to differentiate between toxic and non-toxic species – even for people with experience in foraging’. He sounds like a real fungi to sit next to at a dinner party. Celebrity Chefs like Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall have been banging-on about organic delicacies such as field mushrooms for years but it’s noticeable that survival experts like Ray Mears and Bear Grylls have steered clear. Maybe they’ve been warned-off by their public liability insurers after the 237 recorded cases of poisoning in 2013, many amongst children. This year’s wet August and mild Autumn seems likely to result in a bumper crop and the Government Public Health Service has issued a warning after recording some 100 cases of poisoning in September alone.

European countries are much better organised to cope than the UK. In Budapest you’re obliged to present your mushrooms to an official ‘Mushroom Inspector’ stationed in a kiosk on the Market who then either approves them for sale or confiscates them before you can serve them up to your mother-in-law.

But of course Chefs love to use fresh mushrooms in their recipes all the time, not just in the harvesting season. So the French invented the ‘Champignon de Paris’ – an edible species grown all year round by ‘Champignonnieres’ in abandoned limestone quarries under the City suburbs. A couple still operate today but the wholesale trade has come to rely on the tasteless ‘button’ mushroom grown in so-called mushroom farms. Fortunately new exotic species like Shiitake and Inoki are also now in production and they taste excellent but also look similar to some wild nasties. Industrial production has at least reduced the risk of playing mushroom roulette.

I’ve not yet seen an official Mushroom Inspector on a UK Market but thanks to climate change they may arrive soon. In the meantime I suggest you restrict yourself to foraging for fresh field mushrooms and cooking them with bacon. I found some real beauties when out walking my dogs this morning and they tasted delicious.

See you next month. Maybe.

News-Image Holiday

Everyone looks forward to Christmas (e.g. Payment Card Processors) but maybe not the New Year (e.g. Market Stallholders). This year a fair few are dreading the first quarter of 2014, so maybe now’s the time to make an early resolution to see off the gloom of the ‘Kipper Season’.

Two possibilities are (a) take a tax-deductible buying-trip-cum-holiday somewhere warm and get an edge over your competition, or (b) improve your plastic payment margins. If cash is tight then option (b) might be the only choice.

Some of the charges to SME’s (‘Small and Medium-sized Enterprises’) are outrageously high – anything up to 10%.

According to a report by SagePay – the World’s third largest Payment Provider – the remorseless rise of a cashless society continues, like it or not. Payment Providers such as SagePay, WorldPay and PayPal are the middlemen who process in-store and online EFT debit and credit card transactions for a percentage charge on each. Banks and Credit card issuers like Amex do the same and the fee is variable dependent on the volume of your turnover and the value of the transactions. Some of the charges to SME’s (‘Small and Medium-sized Enterprises’) are outrageously high – anything up to 10% – so (according to SagePay) because Shoppers now carry only £20 cash some £33m of turnover walks away each day when they are told: ‘Sorry mate – I only take cash’.

Such SME’s are (also according to SagePay) short-sighted as once they take cards they see sales turnover increase by 30%. That more than justifies the transaction charges.

Providers may be offshore and dodge paying UK tax.

OK the increased turnover is true enough but that’s not the entire picture. HM Government is concerned that once the cash economy has disappeared altogether then retailers will continue to be overcharged if rates are not opened-up to competition. Oh yes, and the Providers may be offshore and dodge paying UK tax. As SME’s are often portrayed as ‘the engine house of the economy’ the Government is proposing a new FCA regulator to supervise retail payment systems – but don’t hold your breath waiting for it to appear and charges to fall.

In the meantime why not spend the Kipper Season fishing around for a good deal? Some rates are coming down as new Providers emerge and the Federation of Small Businesses – http://www.fsb.org.uk – offers very competitive rates to set up a new Merchant account and process your transactions. In return for a modest membership fee they also offer assistance with Vat, tax inspections and insurances tailored to small businesses. Alternatively try Cardswitcher – http://www.cardswitcher.co.uk – who claim to reduce the cost of card transactions for SME’s by up to 40% by comparing a range of providers. Their online service provides multiple quotes and shows how to switch between Providers. And finally, if you’re on a Open Market stall and reliant on a Mobile phone for card transactions rather than a hardwired data line go to http://www.chipandpinsolutions.co.uk to see if they can help. All their websites are worth a good long look and don’t forget to tell your bankers what you’re doing – and why – and ask them if they can assist. It helps the healthcheck rating they apply to your account.

Of course if you want to stay cash-only then so be it, but you might want to consider moving to Totnes in Devon where they have a thriving independent retail sector supported by their own currency.

The High Street is Totnes is doing rather well thanks to a strong core of independent retailers and few shop voids. This is largely due to the efforts of a grassroots community network, ‘Transition Town Totnes’ – http://www.transitiontowntotnes.org – founded in 2006 by Rob Hopkins and Ben Brangwyn. Their intention was to encourage economic and social resilience in the local economy in response to dwindling oil reserves and climate change. The timing was spot-on. ‘What we are modelling here is not just about the survival of the High Street, it is about strengthening the local economy in the widest sense’ they say. That included a vigorous campaign to see off a proposed Costa Coffee ‘…as we already have plenty of independent alternatives and we simply don’t need it’.

To strengthen the local economy they established a community energy company and community brewery and encourage local people to buy local produce with the ‘Totnes pound’.

The notes can be purchased locally, 1: 1 for sterling and accepted in local shops and to purchase local services. Because they are only accepted locally the ‘money’ stays within the local economy and supports local employment rather than being sent off to distant suppliers and shareholders in London. Add some changes to Shoppers parking tariffs and it seems to be working for their High Street. Mary Portas please note.

The Bank will print banknotes on plastic, not paper as they last longer and are more difficult to fake.

The Bank of England doesn’t view the Totnes Pound as a threat yet but is moving towards plastic in a different way. It now seems likely the Bank will print banknotes on plastic, not paper as they last longer and are more difficult to fake and don’t fall apart in the washing machine. Canada and Australia already use these funky, transparent and difficult-to-counterfeit designs. The Bank seems intent on avoiding the 1940-45 crisis when expert German forgers flooded Europe with fake £5 notes to undermine overseas confidence in sterling. A repeat would make it far more difficult to sell British goods to countries in the EU.

It’s good to see the Bank outwitting the Euro and the evil empire of Frankfurt.

News-Euros

Staying out of the Eurozone was the best decision the last government was ever forced to take – now that the Germans are tightening the screw. The UK can look on with more than a hint of smugness as hoteliers report a surge in demand for ‘Staycations’ from holidaymakers who can afford to buy a small Greek island for the price of a fortnight in St. Ives.

We’ve already loaned some £30 billion to the International Monetary Fund to prop-up the Euro.

What a pity then that well over half the UK’s exports are to the Eurozone. No spending there means no sales from here – so although we’re not in the Euro it’s in our interests to promote a solution rather than just sit back and watch the currency implode. We’ve already loaned some £30 billion to the International Monetary Fund to prop-up the Euro and we can’t expect the Americans to join-in. They aren’t that interested in reviving a protectionist trade zone but are interested in exporting to countries off their West coast. So everyone in the EU is now looking to Germany – the largest Euro economy by far – to finance a solution.

But they might not get quite what they want. During the latest round of crisis talks between the Germans and the French the German Chancellor arrived at Paris airport for emergency talks with the new French President. She stepped off the plane to be confronted by a French immigration officer:

‘Name?’ he asked.

‘Angela Merkel’ she replied.

‘Nationality?’ he asked.

‘German’ she replied.

‘Occupation?’ he asked.

‘No, just here for some talks…’ she replied.

Cash is king at the moment, and the Germans are in no hurry to part with theirs except on their terms. The Bundesbank will only guarantee a bail-out of Spanish, Italian and Greek banks if it can control how the bail-out is spent. Ms. Merkel can’t lend direct to foreign banks because of the German constitution but she can lend to sovereign governments. But Europeans with a long memory don’t like the thought of Germans telling their government what to do so lots of very clever lawyers are now devising ways to overcome the problem. One suggestion is that all bank debts are pooled in a fiscal union to spread the pain across the Eurozone, but that is just not going to happen. Hardworking German voters don’t see why their taxes should bail-out of a bunch of ClubMed party animals and neither do voters in smaller economies like the Netherlands and Finland. Agree to give away a quarter of your tax revenues to subsidise Spain? I think not.

London dominates the EU’s financial services sector with 60% of EU financial exports channelled via London.

At the same time David Cameron has been fighting off the idea of a Financial Transactions Tax to boost the EU coffers. This was proposed by Merkel and others but, unsurprisingly the PM says it is out of the question. The UK wants to see the EU get well again but not at the cost of reduced competitiveness against New York and Tokyo. London dominates the EU’s financial services sector with 60% of EU financial exports channelled via London which makes a massive contribution to our tax base. HM Government accordingly supports financial services just like the Germans support their automotive sector and the French their agriculture. The British counter-proposal of an EU-led invasion of Argentina has not attracted support.

Of course the UK could have stepped-in and doubled it’s support via the IMF if it hadn’t bailed-out the Royal Bank of Scotland with £45 billion of taxpayers money. That thought probably occurred to some MP’s who sit on the toothless-but-influential Treasury Select Committee. They were looking forward to giving Hector Sants – Chief Executive of the Financial Services Authority – a good gumming later this summer when he was due to appear before them, after which he would be confirmed as Chief Exec. of the shiny new Prudential Regulatory Authority – the FSA’s replacement. They might have heard Lord Mandelson explain how regulatory authorities like the FSA were outwitted and governments blackmailed by banks which dumped massive bank losses onto their sovereign balance sheets. The inquisition would have been worth watching but sadly Sants got wind of it, bottled-out and tendered his resignation instead.

But HM government is not heartless. At the same time as sorting the Eurocrisis our Dave found time to keep in touch with his greener, cuddlier side by re-stating the government’s commitment to reduce litter and landfill by a ‘bag tax’ on single-use plastic bags. 5p per bag is now the norm in Wales and will be Northern Ireland from April next year. Quite how this would apply to the Markets industry I haven’t got a clue but neither has the government. However the Scots government is now consulting on the idea – and about time too. Thanks to global warming more and more sea turtles are visiting our shores and the Marine Conservation Society has shown how a discarded plastic bag often looks just like a juicy jellyfish to a hungry turtle, before killing them. I don’t know about that because there aren’t many beaches in Oxfordshire, but anything which reduces litter on the A34 sounds good to me.

But would you believe it – the bean counters at HM Treasury have knocked it on the head. A spokesperson said something like: ‘After the granny tax, pasty tax and fuel tax fiasco we don’t seem to have an appetite for plastic bags.’ They might not, but turtles do. That’s just typical. They think it’s more important to look after the Germans than the turtles.