Is Waitrose boss Mark Price right that the Big Four supermarkets are "20 years out of date"?

James McGregor, director of Retail Remedy, says Yes.

Mark Price is correct that structural shifts in retail are a far bigger threat to the Big Four (Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Asda and Morrisons) than Aldi and Lidl.

Yes, the discounters are a problem, but they’re not the big problem.

The main issue is that people’s grocery shopping habits have changed irreversibly in recent years.

The out-of-town hypermarket, once a symbol of immense strength, has become the sector’s Achilles Heel.

These days, people are not only increasingly shopping online, but they increasingly want fresh, higher quality food.

No need for a hypermarket in either scenario. People are also eating on the go – in Starbucks on their way to work, for example.

As Price points out, this makes the bumper-sized box of Cornflakes, which you would typically go to buy in a bumper-sized store, less relevant.

The world has moved on, and while the Big Four are adapting to grocery’s new paradigm and finally starting to listen to their customers, it’s happening too slowly.

Clive Black, head of research at Shore Capital, says No.

Britain’s supermarkets often look like a square peg in a round hole in the age of convenience shops, the internet and discount stores.

However, while demonstrably under pressure, superstores and hypermarkets need not become extinct.

Their collective woes do reflect structural change, but also poor management. Applying the pint-half-full principle, large stores can be relevant, but they need a competitive price file. The process is akin to drawing out teeth, but it’s now happening.

Once this is achieved, the virtuous points of difference for larger stores can be extolled: choice, counters, pharmacies, florists, cafes, customer service, and making the store an integral component of online trade through click and collect, particularly for groceries.

The Big Four will also evolve through downsizing, and maybe even “dark stores” for online shopping.

The superstore is ill, but with a good physician at hand, it’ll still be around in 20 years’ time.

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