What does this guide cover?
This guide covers 13 of the larger supermarkets most of which have shops throughout the UK. We have also included 9 alternative supermarkets which are representative of a more sustainable food network. Some of these alternatives only have regional shops, like Unicorn in Manchester and HISBE in Brighton, but the rest are available to order from online.
There is no doubt about it, supermarkets offer an accessible and efficient one-stop shop for a wide variety of affordable, diverse and tasty goods.
A quick scan of supermarkets’ shelves also highlights a range of more ethical goods such as Fairtrade, organic and MSC-certified products, some Ethical Consumer Best Buys and an increasing range of free-range, vegan and plastic-free options. This choice is hard to resist, even for the food activists amongst us.
Alongside greater ethical options, improvements are also being made around some supermarkets’ Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) reporting - highlights include Iceland’s palm oil free stance and Tesco’s move towards all cocoa in its UK own-brand products being Rainforest Alliance certified.
Flaws in the supermarket industry
Although these improvements are great news on the surface, dig a little deeper, and the degraded foundations of supermarkets and the wider industrial food system are impossible to ignore.
The Food Foundation’s recent report, ‘The Broken Plate’, highlights ten unhealthy signs of our current food system, which include:
- 46% of food and drink advertising goes on confectionery, sweet and savoury snacks and soft drinks; while only 2.5% goes on fruit and vegetables.
- Of the foods reviewed, unhealthy foods tend to be three times cheaper than healthy food; influencing unhealthy diet choices.
- 17.6% of employees of the food industry earn the minimum wage, compared to 7% of workers across the UK.
- The poorest 10% of UK households would need to spend 74% of their disposable income on food to meet the Eatwell Guide costs – the Government’s official healthy eating guide. This is compared to only 6% in the richest 10%.
Put simply, supermarkets’ true operating costs continue to be borne by workers throughout their supply chains, animal species in their millions, public health and the health of the earth’s ecosystems.