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Banka hrane

Srbija 2020

Dear Mr Miskovic, (a consumer writes)

Like many people in Serbia I'm a regular visitor to your supermarket but have some concerns that need to be addressed. I write as a mere consumer rather than somebody who will mention the dirty monopoly word - perhaps we shall save that for another time.

First impressions of your well known shop are positive. It’s no wonder you are market leader (again leaving aside the fact that you have bought out most of your competitors). One is immediately greeted with air conditioning which in this heat is more than welcome. Soon after, depending on the stores location, one might hear your cute little jingle which is repeated for those that have momentarily forgotten where they are. Everything is laid out nicely, staff are polite and I see that you have finally added baked beans to your repertoire (even if completely overpriced) perhaps realising that the tin with the pork sausage inside is a little nasty.

But to the point, what constantly amazes me is how you sell out of goods and for days your stock is not replenished. This happens on a regular basis, sometimes for weeks or even months - which was the case with NEXT fruit juices sometime last year or with Nektar fruit juice that also went missing from your shelves in Belgrade for weeks on end a month or so ago. Most recently of all my favourite (domestic) cheese sold out and stocks weren’t replaced until a week had passed. The same is true of disposable razors or certain breakfast serials that also have a habit of vanishing without trace.

Now normally I might be inclined to shrug my shoulders and remind myself that this is Serbia - except that this is the private sector, and you are the market leader in a highly profitable industry.

As you may probably know most developed companies have automated systems that will allow them to estimate (and maximise their profits) when restocking is necessary before the shelves begin to empty. The best example of this is a certain Spanish fashion store that Belgrade women have recently become rather fond of located in Knez Mihajlova street. They simply do not allow an empty store and the customers keep coming in droves.

Perhaps it isn’t all your fault, I wouldn’t be surprised if the companies themselves are to blame for failing to send out goods on time. Maybe it’s because they have greater profit margins when exporting and thus neglect the Serbian consumer.

And granted, it isn’t just their lack of stock that is the problem. You must have noticed the correlation between NEXT's poor packaging and the collapse in demand.Muscles aren’t needed to open IMLEK's yoghurts, sheer luck is required for that – and yes the packaging isn’t much better with their milk either.Your main market rival whose crooked director has fled the country (more about him another time) may have that dusty museum feel to it but that is largely because it operated like a government run company. And since you now own that rival it would be difficult to argue that you have the more modern store.

Investment isn’t a problem you have judging by the sale of your bank I'd say that liquid assets aren’t a problem for you either - anybody who reads the newspapers has noticed the companies and land you have been busy purchasing recently - not to mention the announcement of your expansion into the nations of the former Yugoslavia. 

So Mr Miskovic I’m asking you to tidy up your act, invest in your company and use your influence to get the companies involved to respect their customers.

It’s only a matter of time before consumer groups begin to appear in Serbia who will bring their influence to bear as they do in other countries.

Of course some might say that this appeal will fall upon deaf ears and they are probably right.

Now what was it I wanted to say about the danger of a market monopoly?…