CSR, SMEs AND FOOD RETAILING: SMEs and CSR in the community

Posted by Kathryn Schwartz on December 29, 2013

Every organisation has a goal or set of ideas which originate within the organisation itself, much like other ‘living organisms’, “each [entity]… contains the reason for its existence within itself, all the parts react on one another” (Goethe, W, 1988:121). Each small business therefore has a distinctive social identity and SMEs active within the community are able to define themselves in terms of their beliefs, values, norms and peculiar characteristics. Not only are these values explicit in the workplace environment but also in terms of their CSR strategies, their vision and mission statements which will indicate a preference for a particular cause. Booths and Waitrose are two examples of supermarkets that emphasise their local connections and responsibility to the communities within which they operate, and both enjoy customer loyalty and sustained growth even in the current Credit Crunch. Waitrose has maintained its status as a worker-owned co-operative, and has an innovative way of involving the consumer as part of its CSR initiatives; every Waitrose shopper is given a token at the till which they can put in one of several clear plastic boxes at the store exit, each box being labelled with a different local charity. Regular customers can see which charity is being favoured by popular referendum, and a new set of charities appears each week. Booths is a regional supermarket in the north west of England, and makes much of its family-owned status; it supports ‘Slow Food’ as well as Comic Relief (Booths, 2011). Booths is careful where it locates new stores, and what facilities (e.g. cafes) it provides in these stores, so as not to undermine existing businesses in the market towns it operates in (Shaw 2003). Obstronics system

The Co-operative may be used as a counter-example to show how community relations may suffer if a store chain grows too large. When the Co-operative bought the Somerfield chain in 2008 it almost doubled its market share to over 8%, although it has since fallen back somewhat. Nevertheless, the Co-op is still Britain’s fifth largest supermarket chain, and in some suburbs and rural areas of Britain it has a virtual monopoly over supermarket retailing (fooddeserts.org, 2011). The phrase ‘Co-op towns’ has yet to become popularised, as ‘Tesco-towns’ has been, but this may not be far off when “the Co-op… has more outlets in Brighton and Hove than Sainsbury’s and Tesco all together” (Trimingham A, 2009), and it is selling similar premium products to the upmarket independent bakers and butchers in its vicinity. Sometimes in its quest for scale the Co-op abandons an area entirely; in west Shrewsbury the Coop relocated from the centre of Bicton Heath to larger premises on the Welshpool Road, leaving parts of the area over one kilometre from any food store for nearly a year, until a Nisa shop took over the old store. For a while, the former retail centre of Bicton Heath looked very run down, attracted vandalism, and the lack of footfall imperilled smaller shops in this centre. This neighbourhood abandonment, the flip side of opening new stores in a town and outcompeting the independents, has been an accusation levelled at the larger supermarkets, but more ethical stores such as the Co-op may be guilty here too.

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