Secrets from the Supermarket

If I have had too much to drink you can be pretty much certain, dear readers that I will break into my version of the Pulp classic, Common People. You know the one- even if you didn’t know what it’s called: She came from Greece she had a thirst for knowledge, she studied sculpture at St Martin’s College…”

One single event made Jarvis Cocker (Pulp’s lead singer) a personal hero of mine. For the uninformed he famously gate crashed a live Michael Jackson tv performance in 1996, drawing attention to the elephant in the room: MJ was at best a self-righteous, self-serving drug addict, at worst a self-righteous, self-serving sexual predator.

But I digress.

Today I took Jarvis’ advice and took our Higher Ability maths pupils (The Maths Whizzes) to interview the manager of our local supermarket.  (Confused? The song has the line: “I took her to a supermarket, I don’t know why but I had to start it somewhere. So I started there.”)

The children have recently had £10,000 of fake money to invest in the stock market and they are using their collective profits to fund an imaginary business venture. Today’s visit was to find out about profit, product placement and supply/demand.

Now I always proclaim that we are life-long learners. I try to show the children that I am learning new things everyday. Sometimes I fake it. OK, a lot of times I fake it. Who am I kidding, I can fake it better than a £5 whore.  But today I genuinely found the visit to be not just enlightening, but fascinating.

The supermarket manager was forthcoming and very good at answering the pupils’ questions. During the course of the afternoon he shared some of the trade’s (I assume) best kept secrets.

  1. A small supermarket turns over at least £1 million per month, larger ones could be 10 times that amount.
  2. 32% is pretty much the standard profit margin for all supermarkets.
  3. The greatest profit margin is from health and beauty products, fresh bread, meat and frozen vegetables.
  4. Alcohol has the lowest profit margin.
  5. Quick Noodles are the biggest seller in low socio-economic areas
  6. Pork based sandwiches are more likely to become waste than any other product.
  7. More chickens are sold at Christmas than turkeys.
  8. Organic food that is waste is returned to a central depot where it is destroyed using bacteria therefore in the manner which has the lowest environmental impact.
  9. Companies pay anything up to £100,000 to have their products featured along the Power Aisle- the central aisle in the layout. The companies then send auditors into the store to check the placements at random. Store bosses get personal bonuses for keeping the promotional items fully stocked on the shelves.
  10. About £2000 of stock is stolen each day. The most shop-lifted item is cheese.
  11. The higher up a shelf- the more expensive the product brand. Cheaper or generic brands are on the bottom with mid range at eye level.
  12. Supermarkets will exchange any item with a receipt EXCEPT for baby food.
  13. They spend 10% of their net on staffing. Schools spend about 80-90%.
  14. The manager we interviewed today used to manage a supermarket in Chiswick but left for the East End because people in Chiswick were “too demanding.” This sometimes manifested itself as shoppers coming in and handing him a list of their shopping for staff to gather for them.

After awhile I forgot I had The Maths Whizzes with me. The manager began to quiz me about school finances and how they worked. At the end of the day he was making money for some disembodied rich person higher up the food chain. I didn’t make profit- I produced human beings. The manager seemed genuinely enthralled.

I went all sanctimonious. (But not about smoking- I won’t). Jarvis should have been there, dropping his trousers and passing judgement on my attitude but I couldn’t help it. It reminded me that I am lucky to do what I do.

We both learned something. For one, I am going to haggle over the next pork sandwich I buy. It is only going back to some depot to be eaten by corporate bacteria.



Keep the Faith,


The Head


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Filed under Education, The Big Wide World

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