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From humble grocers to de-facto ministry: How supermarkets took over Britain’s food system

As shelves emptied at unprecedented rates in March, the “big four”—Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Asda and Morrisons—banded together to act. But is it sensible to leave the fate of Britain's food system to the vicissitudes of the market?

By Dan Hancox   June 2020

Mandatory Credit: Photo by Ray Tang/Shutterstock (10590208f) Empty shelves of Waitrose supermarket as customers look for food. Coronavirus outbreak, London, UK - 21 Mar 2020 British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has ordered cafes, bars, restaurants and gyms to close in an attempt to mitigate the spread of coronavirus and COVID-19.

It feels like a lifetime ago, but it was the first week of March. I still recall my shock, seeing the long shelves of my nearest hypermarket-sized Sainsbury’s empty of pasta. At first I assumed they were re-organising the aisles, or something equally mundane—until I overheard a conversation between two customers about “stockpiling.” The realisation dawned slowly—this is really happening.

Within days, many of us were doing a bit of panic…

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