I’m back from a quick dash to my local Co-operative Group supermarket, which happens to be conveniently just about fifty metres from my front door. A few essentials have been bought for tonight’s evening meal (baked potatoes, since you ask).
I’ve used this store for the best part of thirty years, much longer than the Co-op Group itself has been around in the form it’s in today. So I know the store well. And I’ve seen it change.
There was a time when everyone locally had their favourite stories about the awfulness of the management and the bizarre nature of the store’s stocking policy. The joke was that if a new line sold very well, you could guarantee it wouldn’t be stocked again (too much work involved in putting in the necessary reorders). And back in the days when my supermarket was part of a regional co-operative society, there were some blatantly bad goings-on, including health and safety breaches and brazen theft. (Once I asked for a membership form to join the society, and one was only tracked down in the manager’s office with very great difficulty – the staff thought I must be wanting to apply for a job).
We can still grumble about things, and not all the management and HR issues seem to me sorted yet. But do you know? I really think the Co-op is better run now than it has been for a very long time. I’m old enough to remember when anti-apartheid campaigners tried to persuade the co-op to boycott South African oranges – only to be told that the co-op couldn’t possibly stop its customers having the choice of buying Outspan. Now the Co-op Group takes a lead on fair trade and there is a definite (if still slightly inchoate) sense of a business trying to be run ethically. Not everything is right yet, but we’re seeing progress.