Although some British supermarkets have niche trading histories dating back to the early 20th Century, the UK’s first fully-fledged supermarket was opened in 1951, and since then, there has been over half a century of unrelenting growth for the main players in the industry.
Currently dominated by the ‘Big Four’ of Asda, Morrisons, Sainsbury’s and Tesco, each of these brands have hundreds of locations around Britain and generally specialise in providing low-cost food for households across the country. Over the course of the past decade, each of these retailers has begun to branch out into offering a number of other products – namely non-food and electronics, as well as home delivery through their online platforms.
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In recent times, there have been a number of businesses either created or launched for the first time in Britain that have gone some way to upsetting the traditional pecking order. At the super-budget end of the market, Aldi and Lidl have made huge gains, particularly in low-income areas – with their advances so prominent that they have been cited in a contributing factor in the poor performance of the Morrisons brand in recent years. This is a section of the market that had previously been cornered by the likes of Farmfoods and Iceland – although these businesses primarily dealt in frozen goods.
There has also been growth in the premium price bracket, with Wait and Marks and Spencer food both offering upmarket products that would not necessarily appeal to the demographics of other supermarkets. However, the nature of their pricing structure means that each is destined to remain somewhat of a niche brand, with their demographic generally believed to be the middle-classes.
One of the main criticisms of the growth of the supermarket in recent years has been the extent to which they have aggressively targeted and successfully marginalised independent retailers (such as the corner-shop, butcher and even pharmacist) – with their widespread success being one of the major reasons behind the decline of the British high street.