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Mushroom Roulette: “Market Matters” November 2014

October 12, 2014

 Budapest.Central Market

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.

 Wild Mushrooms

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.

 Mushroom Foraging Tuition

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.

FDA.Mushrooms

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.

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 some100 cases of poisoning in September alone.

Mushroom Inspector

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.   

 Champignons de Paris

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.

 Shiitake Mushrooms

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.

Mushroom.Dog

See you next month. Maybe.

Tweet Tweet: “Market Matters” October 2014

September 19, 2014

Pied Wagtail

Pied Wagtails and Tesco don’t mix – just like Seagulls and Open Markets.

Last month the Supermarket chain was forced to rethink plans to shoot a bird flying around it’s Great Yarmouth store . It evaded capture for several weeks before Tesco applied for a licence to shoot it, at which point TV “SpringWatch” presenter Chris Packham suggested there was a better way. He Tweeted on Twitter (nice one) that the British Trust for Ornithology would be able to capture and release it.  Tesco agreed to look at the alternatives but since then it has all gone very quiet and the bird has not been available for comment.

Seagull Nuisance

Tesco’s Wagtail problem is nothing compared to the Seagull nuisance on some Open Markets. I’ve visited several this year where Zombie Seagulls have become a real problem and trade is suffering as a result. Clothing displays have to be kept under cover to avoid ‘fouling from above’ and fresh food traders have cleared-off because of the hygiene issues. Shoppers are assaulted and the Market has shrunk in size as a result. If anyone suggests they should be culled (the Seagulls that is, not the Traders) the tree-huggers come out of the woods and the press have a field day.

And it’s not just a problem for Markets – Hoteliers are increasingly fending-off complaints from guests woken by the 4.00am dawn chorus. Truro is a lovely place to stay but try finding a quiet hotel room in the summer – the squawking sounds like your first spouse and in-laws at Christmas. 

Zombie Seagull

The problem is partly-created by the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 which makes it an offence to disturb or harm any birds or eggs, or their nests when in use.  Traders, Shopkeepers and Hoteliers who try to shift the problem onto their local Council often find the Act used as an excuse for inaction whilst in reality the problem is money – who should pay to solve the problem? Perhaps building owners should be more responsible and put netting over their roofs – or takeaway food outlets be reduced in number to reduce public ‘grazing’ and refuse? It has all got very political since dustbins were replaced by refuse bags and takeaway outlets have multiplied. UK Seagull numbers are on the increase whilst in Europe numbers they are falling. This is largely due to the Italians shooting anything which flies and the French eating whatever remains. Seagulls are remarkably intelligent beasties and have flown over to Scarborough, Rhyl and Swansea instead.

The Act does make provision for control measures in the event of a ‘nuisance or risk to Health & Safety’ and anyone can apply for a licence to control numbers. Just like Tesco, British Aerospace at Warton aerodrome applied for a licence to cull seagulls on the nearby Ribble estuary – home to thousands of pairs which cause damage to their aircraft. In response the RSPB lodged (and lost) an appeal to the High Court which cost them £100,000 in legal fees.

BAE Wharton

If someone finds the money then various control measures are available: Prevention (netting and anti-roosting spikes) are expensive but shooting is hit and miss (sorry about the pun). ‘Predator control’ was invented 150 years ago by the Duke of Wellington when the Crystal Palace became infested with sparrows. Ken Livingstone and the GLA tried this again in the ‘80’s and treated Londoners to the sight of pigeons being ripped apart whilst still alive on the pavements of Trafalgar Square. This was not good PR. Nottingham and Norwich Councils have tried that as well and although the tourists objected some locals apparently enjoyed it as a good substitute for fox-hunting.

A discrete industry has now grown up to control seagulls and pigeons, but it’s not cheap. If you have a problem then your Market Authority will not like the cost. The most humane method is to coat the eggs with oil whilst still in the nest or replace them with plastic ones. Mummy seagull continues to sit quietly on them but they never hatch – then after she’s cleared off you remove the nest and put up a net to stop her returning next year. But please NEVER allow a Market Manager loose with a permit and an air rifle after hours. He’ll cause more damage to buildings then the birds.

Some birds are still welcome on Markets – Parrots for instance. They’re noisy and good-natured but do tend to argue with the Manager. A lot like Traders. Who’s a pretty boy now then?

Parrot

First glimpse of the New Woking Market: “Market Matters” September 2014

September 19, 2014

Woking.CGI.01

Councillors had a first glimpse of the new Covered Market in Woking earlier this month. The £4 million project forms part of wider Town Centre improvements by the Borough Council which include refurbishing the 1970’s Wolsey Place Shopping Centre and repaving Commercial Way, the retail heart of Woking.

The new covered Market Walk replaces the existing Open Market on Victoria Way due to be replaced with a new Hotel, Offices and Apartments as part of the improvements, but Councillors have promised existing Traders the current Market will remain open for Christmas trading.

Woking.03Councillors were shown around by Council Officers and Quarterbridge who designed the new facility in conjunction with Benoy Architects. Quarterbridge is also providing interim management services through a new operating Company, Woking Market Ltd.

The new Market has been built in the double-height walkway previously separating Wolsey Place from the adjacent Peacocks Shopping Centre. A new mezzanine floor was installed to create for backup storage accessed directly off the Shopping centre’s service yard. It is equipped with coldrooms for fresh food uses and ambient storage cages for others. The ground floor walkway beneath has been repaved and 15 lockup kiosks provided, ranging from 750 to 1800 sq ft. Two of these are fully-equipped for catering with designated seating areas and three others fitted-out with fridges and display counters for a Butcher, Delicatessen and Fishmonger. The remainder are equipped with lighting, heating and standing-out display areas for greengrocery, florists and fashion sales.

Woking.04

Hayden Ferriby, Lettings Director for Quarterbridge said: “Demand for the kiosks has been excellent – too much in fact, but that’s a nice problem to have. It’s still a Market offering low-cost premises for Stallholders and excellent value for Shoppers. This investment will strengthen and diversify the town centre’s retail offer and help Stallholders keep pace with the multiples”.

Woking.CGI.02

Market Walk will trade 7-days per week and include a further 7 demountable daystalls for ‘casual’ traders in addition to the monthly Farmers and Specialist Market on Jubilee Square. Traders facilities are a vast improvement and include on-site preparation rooms, WC’s, data cabling and a state-of-the-art ‘Mood ceiling’ with background lighting which changes colour!

Quarterbridge lettings can be contacted on 01206 761000 or via their website: www.quarterbridge.co.uk

Woking.02

(Re)cycling across Europe: “Market Matters” August 2014

July 21, 2014

HonestFoodCampaign

Remember the Bernard Matthews scandal of 2007 and how imported turkey meat may have brought HN51 into the UK? And the horsemeat burgers of 2013 – which was more likely to give you the trots etc? Well it seems Farming Minister George Eustice has beaten his former DEFRA stablemate Owen Paterson to the post in the debate on food labelling.

GeorgeEusticeMP

Despite Owen’s pledge to impose mandatory ‘country of origin’ labelling it now looks likely that new EU rules in 2015 will be significantly watered-down. The UK initially proposed all meat foodstuffs – unprocessed and processed – should be labelled with their country of origin. But now, after sustained lobbying of DEFRA by food processors it seems likely processed food will be exempted from the new regulations. Processors will not be obliged to say where their meat ingredients originate from, which is just as well as it could be from a dozen or so countries.  Baking a Pie in the UK using processed meat ingredients from several countries will still qualify as ‘Made in Britain’ which of course reads much better to consumers than ‘Assembled in Britain’. After a series of meetings with the British Meat Processors Association Mr Eustice has informed the EU that: ‘National labelling….would place an unnecessary financial burden on business’.

HonestFood

 Mr Eustice’s change of heart has been hailed as a victory by dodgy EU abattoirs and processors who are heaving a sigh of relief. Not so the advisors to David Cameron who stated in 2007: ‘Food can be imported to Britain, processed here, and subsequently labelled in a way that suggests it’s genuinely British. That is completely wrong.’ He even launched an ‘Honest Food Campaign’ pledging compulsory labelling for food origins.  But that was when he was in opposition and 3 years away from leading a coalition government.

 Meurig Raymond, the president of the National Farmers Union said: “I find this very strange behaviour from our ministers”. Peter Melchett, policy director of the Soil Association, accused DEFRA of allowing business to dictate policy, saying: “Owen Paterson and his ministers are saying all the right things, but there is a gap between the rhetoric and what gets done. So who is pulling the strings?”

FoodLabelling

Who knows – but of course it will still be an offence to inaccurately describe a product e.g. a ‘beef and onion’ pie which actually contains horsemeat. But provided the contents are hygienically-processed and therefore wholesome to eat such mislabelling is only a descriptive failure so unlikely to result in anything more than a slap on the wrist for the producer.

Processed foods comprise a significant part of the estimated 3.4 million tonnes of food wasted every year in the UK food processing, packaging and distribution industries before it even reaches retailers and restaurants. After it does an additional 400,000 tonnes are discarded by UK retailers whilst still edible.

FrankFieldMP

The ‘All Party Parliamentary inquiry into Hunger and Food Poverty’ chaired by Frank Field MP reported as much last month and showed how many of those 800 million would-be meals are then converted into ‘Biogas’. Fermenting edible food waste into biofuel and hence electricity is encouraged by £30 million of subsidy from the Department of Energy and Climate Change. The Committee then illustrated how non-subsidised organisations such as ‘FareShare’ – distributors of surplus foodto Foodbanks – have to charge £100/tonne to collect it from supermarkets, so are losing-out to biogas producers.

FareshareDepot

Frank called the system Madness on stilts’ and the Committee called for changes to the system of subsidies. That in turn highlighted the incentives offered by HM Government to meet the ‘15% electricity from renewables’ target for 2020. Food waste has now become part of the wider argument for and against subsidising otherwise-uneconomical ‘renewable’ generation such as windfarms.

This shameful waste has been known for a long time but Frank hopes to ramp up the pressure on processors, wholesalers and retailers to produce less waste and then offer what’s left to worthy causes. OK, some retailers do donate to FareShare but industry-wide this represents less than 2% of waste – a token gesture. Tesco have confirmed 68% of it’s bagged salads and 48% of it’s bakery goods are discarded.

 BaptisteDubanchet

Meanwhile 25-year old, Bordeaux-born cyclist Baptiste Dubanchet has perfected his skip-diving skills whilst scavenging his way across Europe. To highlight the scandal of food waste he lived solely off the contents of supermarket and restaurant skips during a 3-month, 1,900 mile odyssey pedalling through France, Belgium, The Netherlands, Luxembourg, the Czech Republic and Poland. He looks none the worse for it and you can follow his blog: ‘La Faim du Monde’ at  www.lafaimdumonde2014.com Monsieur Dubanchet is supported by the likes of Mary McGrath from British charity, FoodCyclewww.foodcycle.org.uk  She points out that 4 million of the UK’s 62 million residents now live in ‘food poverty’ which she says: ‘…shouldn’t co-exist in the same community as food waste’.

Good point Mary. It would be interesting to learn in which country Baptiste would most likely starve to death. Probably Germany, because according to EU statistics authority Eurostat Deutchsland is the EU’s top recycler at 65% whilst Britain achieves 43.9% and France recycles just 39%. Baptiste would be far better off in Romania which recycles just 1% of it’s waste. But hang on – isn’t that where all the horsemeat came from?

Logo.Foodcycle

 

Extreme Couponing: “Market Matters” – July 2014

June 15, 2014

SupermarketSweep

 Forget Dale Winton and Supermarket Sweep – the sport of ‘Extreme Couponing’ is joining Aldi-Stalking as the latest craze amongst cash-strapped Shoppers.

According to UK service provider Valassis, more than £1.7 billion of short-term offers were redeemed by retailers last year – either coupons which reduce the price of a particular product or vouchers which reduce the total shopping bill. By Valassis’ estimate the turnover in coupons and vouchers was up 35% on the previous year – better growth than online sales at a mere 20%.

NatalieCooper

 This news came hot on the heels of the money-saving website www.promotionalcodes.org naming Natalie Cooper, 24 of Louth, Lincolnshire as Online Bargain Hunter of the Year for her ‘prolific use of discount codes and deals’. Natalie claims to save £150/month on shopping bills by using coupons and discount codes. Whilst the UK does not (yet, thankfully) have an Extreme Couponing TV show as seen in the USA, it does have a Facebook group created by Jordon Cox, a 16-year-old Essex schoolboy. This has some 52,000 ‘likes’ from users who swop details of the latest offers and how to use them. Jordon became famous in 2013 for using discount vouchers to buy £600’s worth of goods for 4p.

 JordonCox

Ms Cooper spends her time looking online for discount codes, supermarket loyalty scheme vouchers and writing 20 letters a month to supermarket PR departments. Over half then send her coupons, vouchers or product samples in return because “rather than just write and ask for coupons I offer recipes, or take a picture of myself with the product”.

Natalie also offers other useful tips, such as using Savoo.co.uk,HotUkDeals.co.uk and Vouchercodes.co.uk to look for discount codes. Finally she advises: “Avoid busy times at the checkout – and be polite. If there’s someone behind you, suggest they go in front if you have lots of coupons”. This greatly reduces the risk of violent assault by other shoppers.

 SupermarketCoupon

Whilst supermarket price-matching wars have fuelled the popularity of coupons and vouchers, do such offers ever go wrong? Well yes, quite often, according to Charles D’Oyly, the MD of Valassis.   “Mistakes can happen easily,” he says. “Issuers can put the wrong value on a coupon, or print too many. You need to have the terms and conditions very clear and they must have an expiry date.” Asda recently withdrew a £50 discount offer intended for single use after a rogue barcode allowed shoppers to use it repeatedly. The supermarket cancelled the voucher within hours and a spokesman confirmed: “A small number of savvy customers…got more money off than they should have”.

BOGOF

This highlighted a particular problem for retailers: The speed by which Shoppers learn of an ‘opportunity’. Online bargain-hunting forums like HotUKDeals and MoneySavingExpert quickly spread the word when a loophole appears. Last Autumn the members of HotUkDeals bulk-bought ice cream at 88% discount when smaller Tesco stores ran a ‘two-for-£3’ offer on ice cream at the same time as ‘two-for-£3’ on pizza and ice cream.  Shoppers saved twice by combining both promotions.

 Taking advantage like that is not illegal although it’s not a recommended way to stock your stall. Dan Plant from MoneySavingExpert.com says: “Companies lay out exactly how an offer works in the small print. More often than not this is where the traps lie … but if you can use a voucher as described within the small print legalese, then you can fill your boots”. Taking advantage of mistakes has turned into an enjoyable challenge for some Shoppers, but those who go a step further and tamper with a barcode or digitally reproduce a voucher for reprinting are likely to get hammered.  Another problem is ‘misredemption’ – Shoppers who use out of date coupons or ones which don’t apply to what’s in their shopping basket. This ‘voucher abuse’ costs retailers a few hundred million quid a year but rarely ends in court unless a Shopper tries to make a living out of it. The test case was Nigel and Penny Ward of Cambridge who were found guilty in 2011 of fraudulently re-using Clubcard vouchers dozens of times to obtain £1,100 worth of ‘free’ groceries.

WormwoodScrubs

Obviously supermarkets monitor the voucher forums to counter the efforts of bargain hunters as well as determined fraudsters. They check the wording of coupons and vouchers for errors but the sheer volume of offers poses a real challenge, particularly when redemption is reliant on a harassed checkout girl on a part-time contract. Even more so when she’s faced with Natalie at the front of a long queue with a shopping bag full of vouchers.

 SelfServeCheckout

A recent caller to BBC Radio 2’s Jeremy Vine revealed another ‘how-to’ way to save money – cheat a self-service till. The live interview was hugely entertaining and hovered between journalistic enthusiasm, admiration for a very streetwise kid and discouraging listeners from trying it themselves. Certain online forums describe the techniques but unfortunately these were unknown to City of London recruitment consultant, Nicholas Long, 25 who was rumbled whilst on the take at the Lombard Street EC3 branch of Sainsburys Local.

NicholasLong

Nick used to play international hockey for the England under-19 squad, but after being hit on the head once too often began scanning all of his self-service purchases as ‘loose onions’. The slight problem is that Sainsburys Lombard Street doesn’t sell loose onions, so after repeating it some 20 times over 3 months even the minimum-wage security guard noticed the deception. Nick admitted ‘fraud by false representation’ and was sentenced to 180 hours of community service and £250 costs. This was a lot less painful than he’d have experienced had he tried it on at Leadenhall Market.

Bawden.Leadenhall

Eye line is Buy line: “Market Matters” – June 2014

May 17, 2014

Beer and Nappies

When I was at college I shared a flat with a Psychologist who was barking mad but now probably  very rich and working for Wal-Mart. Helping retailers understand how shoppers react when faced with choices is a very profitable business.

The layout of a Market Hall should follow the same principles used in a department store – Shoppers must be encouraged to walk past every stall before leaving the premises. That principle dictates ‘who goes where’ in a Market Hall because some types of use block the view of units behind them. At worst this creates a ‘deadmans’ alley’ which customers never visit and Mr Selfridge knew back in 1909. He positioned jewellery and beauty displays at the front of his store and products which need a ‘high-rise’ display at the back. The same principle is still valid today but often results in a spectacular argument when a front stall becomes vacant. The manager who opts to keep it empty rather than permit a Berlin Wall of shoe boxes is doing the right thing but doesn’t make many friends.

Mr Burns

Life is a lot simpler for Supermarket managers. They don’t have to fight-off psychopathic shoe traders and are more concerned at packing in as many product lines as possible. They try to align the racking so you can see the Meat and Bakery on the back wall but aside from that they move things around to suit themselves, often on a weekly basis. In the USA psychologists were quick to latch onto this and offer their theories about purchasing behaviour to help supermarkets maximise sales. One of the alleged classic successes was to place canned beer next to nappies, (Why? – see later). Behavioural psychologists invented a whole new industry for themselves, advising what should be put where.

Sigmund Freud

UK supermarkets have adopted many of the same principles so it was interesting to see the consumer organisation, Which? blow the whistle on how they use Sigmund Freud’s theories. It equipped researchers with funky, Google-type ‘smart specs.’ which recorded their eye movements and sent them off shopping at Tesco, Asda, Morrisons and Sainsbury’s. And the black magic worked – the researchers came back with more than they set out to buy whilst their eye movements recorded why.

Putting aside all the really clever ideas – EFT and loyalty cards which predict shopping patterns etc – researchers found the first technique was to slow people down. Slow shoppers buy more, so after driving into the carpark at 60 mph they need to be slowed down at the store entrance. A deceleration zone is used, with an automatic door, calming music and seasonal goods to put them in a calmer mood. The entrance area obviously needs to cater for ‘convenience’  visits (a lunchtime sandwich, soft drink and pack of fags) but ideally should relax visitors into an extended ‘dwell time’. I always thought they put fruit and veg. next to the entrance – not the exit – because it’s bright and cheerful, but not so. Cunning psychologists have worked out that shoppers who make ‘healthy’ purchases then go on to reward themselves by buying additional junk food – despite squashing their tomatoes as they walk around.

Checkouts

Encouraging shoppers to circulate by placing staple purchases such as meat and bread on the back wall is straightforward enough, as is scattering other staples like dairy and preserves to ensure all the aisles are visited. The psychologists have taken this a step futher though and recommend arrow aisles to display ‘essential’ purchases. Narrow aisles discourage dawdling i.e. encourage quicker turnover on essentials, whilst wider aisles encourage pausing and are used to display luxury goods. In the USA (where else?) some stores even reduce the size of their floor tiles in the wide, luxury aisles to give Shoppers the impression they’re moving faster than they actually are. This makes them feel a lot less guilty about purchasing luxury items.

‘Eye-height is buy-height’ is a common saying in retailing, so product brands pay a fee for eye-level positioning and even more for the ‘golden zone’ next to the checkouts where mothers reward kids with sweets and themselves with copies of the ‘People’s Friend’. Apparently shoppers choose between similar brands by scanning them from left to right so higher-margin products are often placed on the left whilst value lines are relegated to the right or bottom shelf.

Cunning stuff, but now you know.

The Angel of the North

Last month also saw some interesting news from Morrisons:

Firstly they were forced to apologise for turning the ‘Angel of the North’ into a giant advert for their baguettes. Like all the big four supermarkets they’ve been losing out to Aldi and Lidl so they slashed the price of some 1,200 lines before projecting a 175 foot long image of a baguette onto the famous sculpture. The statue stands alongside the A1 in Gateshead and is one of Britains most popular pieces of public art and locals were not amused. ‘I’m cheaper at Morrisons’ may be true but someone should have asked the Council first. Morrisons promptly apologised and begged Geordies to continue shopping with them.

Trolley Dating

Secondly, consumer data researchers Shopitize confirmed Morrisons is a best place to pick up a date. 60% of Morrisons shoppers on Tuesday are girlies but Sainsburys on a Saturday is a better bet if you’re interested in blokes. 13% of trolley pushers have swopped telephone numbers, 6% have dated and 2% have married. There are several websites offering help and advice on pick-up techniques with tips like displaying a big bunch of bananas. This is, apparently a blatant come-on.

This sad news confirms we’re now more likely to judge someones’s personality by inspecting their shopping trolley instead of shouting over the music in the Wallsend Working Mens Social Club.

On the Prowl

See above: A (dodgy) urban myth suggests USA retailer Wal-Mart (who now own Asda) used to place six-packs of beer next to their babycare products in ‘blue collar’ neighbourhood stores. Loyalty card research identified men as the principal purchasers of nappies, having been sent out by mothers to buy supplies. The men were happy to do so to avoid nappy-duty but liked to reward themselves with a six-pack for the inconvenience.

Nappy

 

Are ALL Banks Bad? “Market Matters” – May 2014

April 23, 2014

 

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Are all banks bad? Not so, say Anglican and Roman Catholic Church clergy who used their Easter sermons to speak out about poverty and destitution. Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury, used the growth of UK Foodbanks to show how people still suffer in the UK – not just in Syria and the Ukraine. Cardinal Vincent Nichols, Archbishop of Westminster spoke of those who feel ‘excluded from the fruits of the Earth’ whilst the Bishop of Truro, Tim Thornton said welfare cuts were having ‘sinful consequences’. Then they banded together with a few hundred other clergy to send a letter to the coalition government demanding more action against poverty, claiming that more than half of Foodbank users are in that situation because of welfare reforms.

ImageThe UK’s largest Foodbank provider, the Trussell Trust has confirmed a 51% rise in useage in the last couple of years with young, single adults now matched by single mums, families and OAP’s. One manager said: ‘They’re not all unemployed. Many are working on minimum-wage salaries or zero hour contracts or training in part-time jobs like security guarding’. The Foodbank users blame their situation on price rises as well as benefits cuts – something which government departments have leapt upon to deflect criticism. Although the Prime Minister has praised the work of Foodbanks the Dept. of Work and Pensions has hit back at criticism of welfare cuts. The Civil Servants have suggested the real problem is high food prices due to global trade protectionism (e.g. the EU Common Agricultural Policy?) They point out that global energy prices trebled between 2003 and 2010 whilst environmentalists continue to reject the costs of energy independence – nuclear power, coal-fired power stations and fracked gas.

ImageThere’s nothing new about ‘turbulent priests’ having a poke at government policy but at least they don’t get their heads chopped off for doing so nowadays. The debate echoes last Autumn’s announcement by Business Secretary Vince Cable that HMG was investigating whether ‘zero-hours’ employment contracts should be regulated. The findings of the review commissioned from Cambridge University by his Department for Business Innovation and Skills (BIS) certainly suggests so. It concludes such contracts are ‘damaging to the mental health of most employees’.

Researchers Alex Wood and Brendan Burchell spent a year talking to shopfloor workers and union officials in an ‘unnamed supermarket chain’ before concluding ‘Workplace flexibility is thought of as helping employees but has become completely subverted across much of the service sector to suit the Employer – and huge numbers of workers are suffering as a consequence’. Their parallel study of an American supermarket chain produced similar findings. I think I know who they’re talking about.

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‘Extreme’ part-time contracts and ‘key-time’ contracts which offer a small number of guaranteed hours and ‘frequent labour-matching’ where managers rearrange shifts to meet customer demand are blamed for creating job insecurity and stress. Employers often promote them as ‘work when you want’ but in reality managers use them to hit local sales targets whilst head office pursues a hidden agenda of reducing NI contributions and dodging employment legislation. ‘It’s the invidious way that vulnerable people at the lower end of the labour market are forced to live their lives that requires scrutiny’ the Cambridge researchers conclude. ‘People and their families are suffering enormous levels of anxiety and even mental illness because of what is fast becoming common practice’.

Aren’t you pleased that you’re self-employed? This sounds like another problem for Justin Welby to sort out once he’s dealt with Gay marriage and Payday loan Companies.

Image

On a less serious note the press has exposed a couple of excellent stories for cat-lovers.  After vets diagnosed several cases of feline tuberculosis followed by two cases of TB amongst cat owners the Public Health authorities went into overdrive. Cat-lovers were reassured Moggie isn’t a ticking time bomb on the sofa. Bertie Squire, Professor at Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine pointed out “The real problem of human TB in the UK has nothing to do with cows, badgers, or cats – it’s humans.” He confirmed that you’re much more likely to catch TB (or something far less curable) from that charming foreign waiter you met on holiday. Also that in the UK in 2012 there were 8,100 cases of TB transmitted human-to-human and only 26 from animals to humans – and they were all from cattle. This news came as a welcome bonus to badgers who also learnt DEFRA had cancelled it’s experimental cull in Somerset. HM Government has now switched investment from incompetent marksmen to vaccines for badgers and cattle. This should save £30million of compensation paid-out to cattle farmers each year.

Badger
And finally: Zero hours working and job-sharing have finally spread to Downing Street. The Prime Minister has forced the ‘Chief mouser to the Cabinet Office’ – ‘Larry’ Cameron into a job-share with streetfighter and former stray ‘Freya’ Osborne. Larry’s persistently low kill-rate has been boosted by Freya who has survived Cat TB and the mean streets of Notting Hill without any Foodbank assistance. Armed police cross the street and avoid her when she strolls past.

Show her some respect.

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