curiosity about the ways of the world

Goodbye Lenin, hello Tesco (again)


Does Edinburgh get the kind of Tesco it deserves?  I am intrigued to find that old Tesco stories on my blog still attract new comments, curiously some of them are from people who indignantly defend the supermarket but there is an encouraging majority from people who want to support local shops.

Tonight I peered through the window of the old bed shop in Picardy Place which is being fitted up for the new Tesco Express. It’s still a building site but under bright lights you can see a handsome space that might have been all kinds of creative things. Or even a more imaginative kind of supermarket. It’s not so fanciful, take a look at what Tesco does in other parts of the world.

A few years ago Ray and I discovered that shoppers in Prague and Budapest enjoy a distinctly different kind of Tesco experience.  Perhaps it has changed now but in 2007 the newly colonial retailer was almost unrecognisable in both cities and not just because of the old communist architecture.


This is the real market but Tesco was selling the same kind of sausage

In Budapest, Europe’s biggest Tesco hypermarket (then run by  Yorkshireman Paul Kennedy) stocked an astonishing 90% of local produce. Likewise in Prague – where Tesco occupies a rambling old Soviet department store – the Czech supermarket sells mainly Czech goods.  And  the busiest part of the store by far is the area selling fresh meat, chickens with heads and feet, fish, cheese and local fruit and veg. The kind of stuff Czech people buy in markets and local shops.

Britain moans about EU regulations but rolls over backwards to accommodate US retailing culture: fast food, heavily packaged and laden with fats and sugars. In the rest of Europe even McDonalds looks and tastes better – Dougal discovered a McDonalds in Bratislava where they served delicious goats cheese salad, long before they decided to offer healthier options in Britain. (Other travellers make equally surprising discoveries)

So I am sure Edinburgh could successfully demand more and better of supermarket chains. The increasingly dysfunctional city council hides behind planning regulations but consumers, Facebook groups and even good old fashioned voters could combine to persuade both retailers and councillors to do things differently. We could start by electing a different council next year.

Meanwhile of course local residents can keep on supporting Broughton Street’s excellent independent shops where we can find almost everything we need.


Központi Vásárcsarnok, the Great Market Hall in Budapest.  Wouldn’t it be great to have one of these in Edinburgh?  If the City Council wants to mess about with the Assembly Rooms they could at least do it in style…


  1. jerry

    your obsessed! why would you peer into a window if you dont want it there? its opened you have lost ! no amount of campaiging was ever going to work……..and I just know you have been in and bought something dont deny it now! I guarantee its only affected rs mcoll which is a another chain of which you detest and that crappy rubbish (i wont swear!) eveing news sign”shop” i think its a shop anyway

    I go back to mr leachs comments at the beggining if you were prepared to have a reasoned case for and against then fair enough however as it has been one way traffic all the time you switched me off! anyway sure your looking forward to your tesco clubcard statement ! ps doesnt the bookies and the “lingerie” shop and the “sex” shop bring the tone of our great area down more than tesco.where were the campaigns then! especially the sex shop jumping on wrong bandwagons me thinks!!!!!

  2. Administrator

    Excellent points Chris – I share your suspicion of ‘slow creep’ (there’s an excuse to return to Prague or Budapest, not that I need an excuse)

    Haven’t been to River Cottage Canteen but when I was visiting Fran in Chicago a few years ago she took me to the Whole Food supermarket, a truly amazing place and I am sure there could have been an opportunity for something like that in Picardy Place – maybe Real Foods could have branched out of their rather cramped quarters in Broughton Street.

    Or we could have followed the incredible success of Bruar Falls and showcased the best of Scottish…doesn’t always have to cost an arm and a leg either.

  3. Chris Berry

    Very interesting points on how Tesco and other big multi-national brands adopt their model to suit the purchasing demands of a particular country, or market. Although, I do wonder if they introduce a slow creep towards the very Americanised formats of produce and presentation we now see in the likes of Tesco and other such “mega chains” in the UK.

    I really do hope the arrival of Tesco on Picardy Place will not seriously impact the prevalence and blend of independent traders on Broughton Street, but only time will tell. Certainly, I for one will continue to support the “locals” as much as I can.

    Fay – I really like your point about having better “supermarkets” in Edinburgh – and not just Waitrose! The River Cottage Canteen and of course London’s Borough Market have shown how – with a bit of imagination – a permanent “one stop shop” for local traders and produce can be created. If only the space now occupied by Tesco at the top of Broughton Street could have been turned into something similar…

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