Why grinding poverty has turbocharged a new challenger to supermarkets.

Why grinding poverty has turbocharged a new challenger to supermarkets.

This week is officially Healthy Eating Week in the UK, so a good time for charity The Bread and Butter Thing (TBBT) to launch its latest research on the subject. It does not make for happy reading.


4.26m UK households have less than 10% of the budget needed to eat healthily | Retail Bulletin (


It has been clear for some time that people at the lower end of the economic spectrum have been suffering exponentially during the cost of living crisis, but the figures from TBBT give some alarming context. If has found that 4.26 million UK households have less than £20 per person to spend on food every month, out of a total population of 68 million people.

That is a shocking revelation in what is nearly the second quarter of the 21st century. That £20 per month is just 10% of the figure considered necessary to provide a healthy diet.

Meanwhile, former PM Gordon Brown has written about how the UK has become a ‘food bank nation,’ reporting that the country now has three times more food banks than it does cinemas. There are twice as many food banks as there are hospitals, according to Brown.


How Britain became a food bank nation | General election 2024 | The Guardian.


It doesn’t take a genius to realise that something has gone very wrong. In 2010 there were just 35 food banks, while now there are 2,800 of them. 

It would take a stony heart not to feel compassion and sympathy for those struggling to feed their families. But even the most stony-hearted retail accountant would recognise that this creates a business problem as well as a social one.

Even the deepest supermarket discounts don’t make a healthy diet affordable for people in such strained financial circumstances; by letting such levels of poverty develop, our society has made almost any kind of shopping unaffordable to a large proportion of the population. There are nearly as many food banks in the UK as there are branches of Tesco (2,904), far more food banks than there are branches of Sainsbury’s (1,442) or Asda (1,016).

Put bluntly, a new competitor to the big supermarket chains has quietly evolved. It is funded by charity – essentially by more benevolent taxpayers who donate food or money – and gives its products away for free. 

There has been a clear failure to address this issue at government level. Perhaps it is time for some real creative thinking from retailers, to find ways to address a fundamentally unbalanced economy. A situation where up to 10% of a population is forced to rely on free food is simply not tenable, for people or for businesses.

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