Could Sainsburys be coming to town?

It’s just been announced: Sainsburys to buy 24 stores from the Coop.  22 of those to be former Somerfield supermarkets (Coop is taking over Somerfield).

We have two in-town supermarkets: a Coop and a Somerfield (the one small, the other middling sized).  And a very healthy footfall in the town centre, with a thriving market and a bunch of other shops (though also some closures – a Woolworths, and several estate agents).  So we should be a prime target for the Coop to want to dispose of one of the two stores, and for AN Other (like Sainsburys) to be interested in buying.

We already know Sainsburys is interested in Tavistock: they’ve been poking around and AIUI put in a planning application for an out-of-town superstore that would be in competition with Morrisons.  But AFAIK nothing came of that[1], and one of the in-town stores – ideally the existing Somerfield – could be a good alternative.

I just hope that if they take it on, they’ll revert it to muzak-free.  The current Somerfield was a nice shop, as well as really convenient, before they inflicted muzak on us.

On a related note, I thought the old Woolworths building would do nicely for a smaller supermarket shop – maybe something to fill a niche between Somerfield and Crebers (the latter being small and very upmarket).  But if Somerfield gets rid of the muzak, that would become unnecessary.

[1] John’ll know if I’m wrong 😉


Posted on March 4, 2009, in shopping, tavistock. Bookmark the permalink. 15 Comments.

  1. Sainsburys have put in an appeal against refusal for the out-of-town site and it’s going to public enquiry. The ultimate decision will rest with the Secretary of State (who probably doesn’t even know where Tavistock is), and given the dubious links between the Sainsbury family and Nu Labour, they’ll probably get approval this time.

    I doubt Sainsburys would be interested in the former Somerfield as they want a petrol forecourt as well as a largish store. It’s a pity, though; an excellent small Sainsburys has just opened in Exeter city centre in competition with the always overcrowded and chaotic Tesco Metro, and something similar in Tavistock would provide more choice without a) drawing people from the town centre, and b) encouraging motorised shopping. However, these “metro” style supermarkets are usually found in busy city centres where there’s a lot of footfall, and I doubt the economics would work in Tavistock. In the interests of a sustainable town centre I’d like to be proved wrong however…

  2. Why “ideally the existing Somerfield”? I don’t know the particular stores, but I hope that the Co-operative Group keep the larger stores in the South and West, which will usually mean the Somerfield ones. They have an own-brand radio channel instead of muzak and with the new bigger group’s purchasing power, it should be even better value for all customer-members while still keeping the recent high quality standard.

  3. MJR – the coop here plays the most ghastly noise of any of them. Hence my desire for change in the bigger/better store. Another datapoint: the (bigger) coop in nearby Yelverton used to be a very nice shop, then it got revamped (same branding as the Tavistock one) and became a lot less nice. No idea why …

    Anyway, young man at the coop checkout today told me, Somerfield is indeed due to become a bigger Coop store. He doesn’t know the fate of the smaller shop where he works (nor do I know how reliable his information is). Perhaps there’s hope the change may bring a new manager who believes in peace and quiet.

  4. Well, that’s odd. Have you hung around in-store long enough to hear what the ghastly noise is? Co-op Radio (not to be confused with CFRO Co-op Radio) is middle-of-road but OK enough that I wouldn’t mind it at home sometimes.

    I’ve looked them up on and it turns out Yelverton and Tavistock food stores belong to PSW.Coop, who I think have only recently started using the new branding. Were they it “Your Local Co-op”? I’ve not seen that particular style, so I can’t really comment on it in particular, but the “Local” shops in other regions always used to be a bit hit-and-miss.

    I really hope that “the co-operative food” style keep the fairly high standards they’ve set around me and sort out the few random-stock-decision kinks.

  5. Just thought it was worth pointing out that there is no danger of the current Tavistock co-op closing or moving. It is owned by a different co-operative group(plym and south west) to the group that purchased somerfield. The group that bought somerfield has its head office in Manchester and is owned and run by different people. I learnt all this when i started working for the plymouth and Soutwest group. It is also the case that in other areas of the country the two societies run seperate stores in the same town.

    It is confusing as the plym and southwest society purchases its stock from the larger manchester based co-op at a preferential rate, hence the same own brand products and similar special offers. The only difference you will notice is the different dividend cards used, which are not interchangeable between different societies. Staff discount and Vouchers issued or bought in one society are also not able to be used in another. So if Tavistock ended up with two co-ops your dividend points/vouchers would have to be redeemed in the branch of the specific society that issued them.

    The Tavistock co-op is due to change branding in the next 2-3 years, whereby it will take on green as the most prominent colour. The storefront will also be changed to read something along the lines of ‘ Cooperative Foodstore Tavistock – Plymouth and Southwest Society’, this will also bring the storefront in line with the new logos on own brand products.

  6. @tavypilgrim – just to muddy the waters further, I think are corporate members of the Cooperative Group. They’re different cooperatives, but corporate members co-own the Group along with the individual members. It’s a bit of an odd set-up compared to coops like PSW and ARCS.

    I thought I’d read that the OFT had told Group they couldn’t sell stores to their corporate members, so I wasn’t sure what was going to happen where a Somerfield was near a non-Group co-op food store. If the two societies run seperate stores in the same town in other areas already, then I guess the ex-Somerfield and the PSW store will compete like those other places.

    Finally, the different dividend cards are being simplified by reciprocal agreements as stores adopt the new brand. The new “honey” cards often are interchangeable between different societies, although you still choose one or other to be your “home” co-op.

  7. At present the PSW co-op wont accept the ‘Honey’ cards, these were introduced 3 maybe 4 years ago as an agreement among several co-op groups in order to make things easier for their customers as you stated. For some reason however PSW co-op decided against using them. Which is a bizzare decison in my opinion considering they purchase almost everything from the Manchester Based Co-op (till software etc.).

    In further news we have had people in store for the past 2 weeks doing consumer surveys regarding the strong possibility of Sainsbury moving to town. The Tavistock Co-op have seen signifcant rises in profit for several years now and the co-op bosses dont seem too concerned about the arrival of sainsbury. The survey seems to suggest that they would not attract the same customers and people shop at the co-op mainly through loyalty or because of convenience.

    In short the PSW area manager expects either a second Co-operative Food Store to open in Tavistock or it to be bought up by sainsburys.

    They are more concerned about the possible competition from a second co-op store as this would affect the traditonally loyal customer base due to people not realising they are seperate groups. Also due to being a bigger store it would probably trade using co-op ‘supermarket’ prices rather than the ‘large convenience store’ ones that the current store uses.

  8. Thanks for all the insights. MJR and tavypilgrim are clearly far better-informed than I am 🙂 I presume the old “plymco” (which I liked a lot when Yelverton was my nearest store) is the same as PSW, or was a takeover or other re-org involved in that rebranding?

    Guess I’ll have to wait and see what happens here. But it would seem a little strange to end up with two coops and nothing else – regardless of the different organisations! Given the shared supply chain, what’s the risk they end up with identical ranges, to the detriment of competition?

  9. While participating in Cooperatives-SW, I’ve heard people refer to as “plymco” so I assume they’re the same, but I don’t often get that far south-west, so I don’t know the history and bow to anything tavypilgrim offers.

    Two other things: 1. I think I heard that Group has flattened its price levels so there’s two (large and small store) instead of the recent four (OCO, small supermarket, large convenience, small convenience) but I don’t remember where/when I think I heard that, so I could be wrong.

    2. I doubt all the supply chains are shared between PSW and Group, but there’s probably a lot of overlap. Who wants competition anyway? Join both, pressure them to run efficiently and if they mis-estimate, the customers get paid back the surplus anyway!

  10. The ranges would be almost identical to be honest. The PSW co-op buys all their grocery stock from the The Co-operative group, this is not just own brand products but all the named brands, plus the dairy, Fairtrade and frozen ranges. The only differences would be in things like locally sourced products e.g. cider, clives pies, greetings cards. And things like milk, fresh fruit/veg and bread which are sourced from various companies e.g. Definately devon, Warburtons, Hovis. For whatever reason the Tavistock co-op doesnt seem to ever purchase stock from the co-ops ‘everyday’ cheap brand the equivalent of ‘tesco value’ so i guess that could be where the ranges differ.

  11. There’s a proposal for PSW to merge with tCG – see

  12. I’ve just learnt that the planning inspector has rejected Sainsburys’ appeal on the basis that the proposal would be detrimental to the town centre retail economy, and that the out-of-town location would encourage car-dependent shopping and was poorly located for access by pedestrian means and public transport. So I have to credit the inspector with listening to the arguments, getting an understanding of the retail dynamics of the town, and not being influenced by big business despite Sainsburys’ financial and political clout. On balance I think the inspector’s decision was the right one.

  13. Can’t entirely agree with that. It’s not in conflict with the town centre, only really with Morrisons. And it’s well-located for pedestrian access (I walk that way regularly – from the far side of town) and is on our main bus route.

    As for encouraging car-based shopping, that’s probably right – though it’s also on the doorstep of hundreds of new houses. But the solution to that should be economic, starting with charging full big-business rates on all land devoted to car parking.

    Any news on Lidl’s application? I’m in favour of them ever since they promised NO MUZAK when I went to their public consultation.

  14. Sainsburys were proposing a much larger store than Morrisons and would offer a superior grocery range including deli counter, butchery etc that would compete directly with the town centre independent shops, with the added bonus of copious free car parking (yes, I know Morrisons has some of this, put it’s a pretty poor offer compared with, say, Crebers or Country Cheeses). In the short term one can argue that a new supermarket increases choice, but if the effect is to undermine the viability of the independents, then choice is eroded in the longer term. Sadly this process has afflicted many market towns already.

    Agreed there is pedestrian access and it is convenient for the new housing estates on the southern edge of the town, but I’m not sure that many people are prepared to walk as far as you to do their bulk shopping! I don’t see streams of pedestrian shoppers moving to and from Morrisons on a regular basis, but the car park is always busy.

    Lidl’s application was approved first time around as it was a much smaller store, involved developing an ugly, underused brownfield site, and will serve a niche that is less well provided for locally. The store is being built right now.

  15. Indeed, I can now see Lidl being built. On Saturday evening as I passed the site they had half the road closed for works.

    I welcome Lidl: it will indeed complement the smaller retailers (shops and market stalls). I was also well-pleased at the genuine consultation they went through. Maybe it can even enable me to dispense with the muzak-infested supermarkets entirely, though I expect I’ll still use Somerfield for quick-purchases ‘cos it’s that mile closer to home.

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