FEATURE: What will Sunderland’s supermarket boom mean for shoppers and businesses?

Tesco - Roker Retail Park Artists impression
Tesco - Roker Retail Park Artists impression
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More and more supermarkets are being built on Wearside. Reporter Tom White investigates the impact they are having on shoppers and retailers in the region.

DAY by day it seems that plans are unveiled to build new supermarkets on Wearside.

Butcher Gordon Robson of East Boldon has won seven awards for his sausages in the Robin Hood Championships

Butcher Gordon Robson of East Boldon has won seven awards for his sausages in the Robin Hood Championships

They include Sunderland Retail Park, Roker, which is being demolished for a Tesco, which is also moving into Peel, Washington.

Morrisons is adding to its Wearside portfolio by developing in Washington, while Southwick has Sainsbury’s and Lidl setting up there.

With these plans come the promise of jobs and more wealth in the economy – but what can often be forgotten is the impact it has on the smaller independent shops on our streets.

Fifty years ago it was commonplace for butchers and bakers to be on every high street, but are now much more of a rarity.

Gordon Robson, owner of Gordon’s Butcher and Fine Food Store in East Boldon, says he definitely feels the pressure of competing with the big boys.

“We have a big supermarket just two miles away from the store, so just before we opened up I went along and had a look round the store.

“I went into the shop and made a note of what they offered, and then wrote my business plan to source everything from the local area.

“This is because when you look in the supermarkets they sell things from all over the country and the world, so we try and get products from our region.

“We try and give people a personal touch when they come in as well as the best produce we can.

“We get people coming in who are good cooks and bad cooks, so I always offer advice and try to help them out.”

The 39-year-old believes independent stores can take advantage of areas not covered by bigger outlets.

“We sell more obscure things that you won’t find in a supermarket, like Ox cheek, because we can offer them that choice.

“In fact, we’ll try anything a customer wants so they come back.

“It doesn’t matter to the supermarkets if what you buy isn’t the best, because they know people will have to keep coming back.

“So whether it’s a butcher, a baker or a florist we have to give good service because we cannot compete on price with the big companies.

“They often will have loss leaders in their shops which will get people in and then they will do the rest of their shop there.

“People often get into a habit of going to the same shop so we have to give them a reason to come here.

“In Europe there is a totally different mentality, as people will buy bread every day from the local baker – whereas here they will buy enough loaves for the week from the supermarket.”

Mr Robson, who has won many national awards for his sausages, said that even though supermarkets present a challenge to independents, it sometimes can be a good thing.

“I think the increase in supermarkets will have a negative impact on the independent shops in Sunderland, but in one way you could try and turn it around by saying people will have to pass our shop to get to the supermarket, so lets offer them the best product to get them in.

“It’s important not to lie down when they are built near you, so we started to produce things that you cannot get elsewhere.

“I often get people coming into the shop to buy their meat and then they go on to a supermarket to do the rest of their shop.”