BASILDON, England (Reuters) - The mood among shoppers was resolute at the Tesco superstore in this town east of London on Thursday after Britain’s biggest supermarket chain halted sales of top-selling Unilever brands online.
In an area that voted for Britain to leave the European Union, there seems to be little sympathy for Unilever, whose costs have risen because the pound has plunged since the June vote on EU membership, making imported goods more expensive.
“Tesco should stick it out, and get the other supermarkets to do the same. Unilever shouldn’t be able to tell them what to do,” Jeaninne Richards, 69, a retired dressmaker who voted for Brexit, said in the detergents aisle.
“Unilever is being so greedy. They are using Brexit as an excuse ... If they take their products off the shelves, people are going to buy different products and then stick with it, so they are going to lose a lot of customers because of it.”
The Daily Mail newspaper reported that some shoppers were preparing to boycott Unilever products.
A spokeswoman for Unilever said the company was not commenting on the opinions expressed by shoppers.
But the pound’s fall has left suppliers and retailers struggling to maintain profits because of the increase in the cost of imported goods.
Unilever Chief Financial Officer Graeme Pitkethly said devaluation-led price increases were a normal part of doing business, but did not comment specifically on the dispute with Tesco.
One of the food items that has been pulled online by Tesco is Marmite, a salty, sticky yeast-extract spread which many Britons enjoy on toast.
Marmite was on sale at the Basildon superstore, but some shoppers were worried it could become hard to buy.
“The kids love Marmite,” Joe Green, a 32-year-old man who works in insurance, said as he shopped with his two-year-old son Charlie.
Green said calls by Unilever for what sources have said is a 10-percent price increase are “a bit of a rip-off considering it’s made in the country.”
“It’s nothing to do with Brexit, I think it’s people getting greedy,” he said. “Brexit is an easy excuse for everyone to use at the moment.”
Richard Walton, a 42-year-old carer with a trolley full of Tesco’s own-brand products, said there would always be an alternative to Unilever products such as Marmite.
“There’s so many alternatives to every single food and cleaning product,” Walton said.
“I‘m fed up with other countries telling us what we can and can’t do ... Nothing has changed with Brexit. Brexit’s got nothing to do with any of it.”
Writing by Guy Faulconbridge, Editing by Timothy Heritage