By NEIL RIDDELL & MIRIAM BRETT
CUSTOMERS poured through the doors as supermarket giant Tesco opened its South Road store at Lerwick for the first time on Monday morning, spending almost quarter of a million pounds in the first three days alone.
As many as 50 hardy souls even queued outside the store prior to its 9am opening before flooding in to spend more than £100,000 during the first day’s trading, 10 per cent ahead of the Orkney store’s first day takings last week.
Around £78,000 was taken through the tills on Tuesday and a further £62,000-worth of goods had been sold by 9pm on Wednesday. By that time, stocks of fresh fruit and vegetables had almost completely run out, but store manager Paul Clelland said this was because of higher than expected demand, with the company 20 per cent ahead of its target for the week.
Mr Clelland said he was delighted with the response of the Shetland public and that he hoped deliveries yesterday and today would get fresh food stocks back on track. “It’s been very good,” he said. “People are very pleased with the range and the prices that we’ve got, and the selection of fruit and veg.”
Most consumers did indeed appear to be pleased at the choice and price of the goods on offer and few seemed worried about concerns raised by local retailers’ organisations.
But some shoppers voiced concern at Tesco’s pricing scheme and questioned how genuine their commitment to local produce was.
The company is using Shetland Farm Dairies as its “primary” milk supplier but this week has been running a special offer on Aberdeen dairy Wiseman’s, where you can buy two litres of its low fat milk for £1 – more than the £1.04 it charges for a single litre of the local product, which costs £1.52 for two litres.
Tesco is selling 10,000 different products in the shop, which it hopes to expand by 38 per cent later this year, and many shoppers welcomed the prospect of a larger store.
Walls teenager Willem Cluness, 16, said he thought the refurbished store was an improvement on Somerfield because the prices were lower and there was more variety. “But Tesco could do more to improve the view that they are unethical,” he said. “This would encourage more locals to come and shop here.”
Retired modern studies teacher Gordon Johnston, 62, of Cunningsburgh said he welcomed Tesco “if they offer cheaper prices”. He understood that there were “mixed views” about the company and that local businesses were concerned at the possible impact but “at the end of the day customers want cheaper prices”.
Douglas Grant, 58, from Quarff, said he had been looking forward to the supermarket coming and that he didn’t feel the impact on smaller shops would be too great as it was just replacing Somerfield. “The Co-op has been really very good, I always find the staff really pleasant,” he said. “If an extension comes, I think it will probably be welcomed – more choice and more competition locally.”
Councillor and shopkeeper Caroline Miller said she had a “mixture” of opinions about Tesco arriving in Shetland, and that she was concerned at the possible impact an extension would have.
Ms Miller said: “I’m glad to see more variety and cheaper prices. However, I have concerns about the effect the planned extension will have on local shops.”
On Wednesday evening, however, there was hardly any fresh food left and one customer grumbled on the way out of the door that there was “nothing on the bloody shelves”.
The South Road store was officially opened on Monday by deli worker Lorna Coutts, a member of staff who has worked at the store under all its previous incarnations, going back 36 years to when it was run by Templetons on Commercial Street, at what is now Boots the chemist.
Over at the Co-op’s Holmsgarth Road store, the rush of the past nine weeks was well and truly over, with a handful of shoppers wandering around blissfully quiet aisles on Monday morning. One woman, who did not want to be named, said it was “fine” that Tesco had moved into the islands but she was shopping in the Co-op this week because she expected the newly-opened store to be “a bit busy”.
Sandwick woman Karen Spiers said she was not sure whether she would be shopping at Tesco at all because they are “a very unethical company”. “Had it been another supermarket [group] then I would have been okay with it,” she said.
Another Co-op shopper, Bressay man Bill Morris, welcomed Tesco’s arrival. “Prices in Shetland local shops are too high,” he said, adding that the proposed extension would create competition for those same shops.
Ironically given the history of what is now Tesco, the Co-op, the fifth biggest supermarket group in the UK, this week strengthened its position in the grocery market by launching a £1.57 billion takeover of Somerfield, a deal which the Manchester-based mutual outfit said was done on a cash-free and debt-free basis. The Co-op is run on behalf of its 2.5m members.