Does the growing popularity of the supermarket with consumers signal the end of the small independent grocer?

The rapid growth of new housing estates has brought about a change in retail demands on a scale which cannot be met by the small local shop. This vacuum has been filled by the supermarket chain. 

The Irish grocery market is dominated by five major retailers; Quinnsworth, Tesco, H Williams, Superquinn and Dunnes Stores. The biggest is Quinnsworth with 17% of the market share, a multinational company owned by Galen Weston in Canada.  All five chains are battling to gain control of the market with Quinnsworth and Tesco aiming to push the others out.

The supermarket is the equivalent of the traditional high street of small shops placed under one roof. The facilities on offer attract the entire family to shop as a unit, where in the past it was the role of the housewife to go from shop to shop on her own. The supermarket is likened to the village market square of old.

Superquinn is the visual centre of the community of Knocklyon in Dublin. Founder of the Superquinn supermarket chain Feargal Quinn says a 1930s style shopkeeper cannot support the population's needs. However he understands the value a smaller grocer brings to the community.

That’s why we work very hard to become part of the community, on the shop floor to make it a social centre, it’s part of the cultural fabric of our society, modern supermarket there in the community.

Feargal Quinn disagrees supermarkets are putting small independent shopkeeper out of business as ultimately the customer makes the choice where to shop. If consumers are demanding supermarkets then it is unfair to blame the chains for supplying a need.

The importance of independent grocers cannot be underestimated. They are local, usually within walking distance of the consumer. They often provide credit, the goods are provided fresh daily, opening hours are lengthy and the grocer builds up a personal rapport with customers. This range of services cannot be replicated by a courtesy desk in a supermarket.

Shopping at your local grocer is a very friendly experience and more important it is a profitable experience, all the statistics indicate that you can get good value for money at your local independents.

A housing estate in Dublin’s docklands includes a small shop as part of its plans. Clearly there is a role for the small shop in society if it is wanted.

This episode of 'Ireland’s Eye’ was broadcast on 31 March 1981. The reporter is Áine O’Connor.