If you've seen the proliferation of chains in the US you'll immediately recognize that the identity of many towns and cities is in jeopardy. Who goes to Cleveland because they have a great Starbucks? Do you visit Chicago for the Pizza Hut? Of course not. The sad fact is that Anywhere, USA is a reality now. Small, indepedent companies are extinct in many places and on their way out in others. (A notable exception is SF which somehow manages to thrive.) Just try to find an independent grocery store and you'll see what I mean. But is there more at stake beside the landscape? Yes.
Sure, you can be a regular at Starbucks and develop a friendship with the barrista in the same way you might with the person who ran that nice diner. And, you say, the coffee at Starbucks is way better. True as that may be, ask yourself what happens when the only place to buy coffee is Starbucks, and another chain or two. Fierce competition you say? Possibly. Or maybe just a carving of the market and higher prices.
Then what happens when those 3 chains decide that coffee beans are too expensive and that they're going to substitute them with a genetically modified knock-off? You'll scream, you'll holler, but you'll have to accept because, you know what? Starbucks and that other chain may by then sell 95% of the coffee in America and what they dictate to the grower (or to Congress) could become the norm.
And let's not forget the producer of the food or product in question. Chains are fabulous distributors. They push products out to consumers in ways that the producer cannot hope to achieve. In this way, they are the focal point between the mass of producers and consumers (who unfortunatley will be screwed unless they too somehow band together). What you'll be left with is a few companies that produce and distribute products all cramming it down your throat at high margins.
The producers will fight it though. They'll consolidate to the point that if Walmart wants vacuums they won't be able to play lots of companies against each other. Yup, it'll be Hoover at Walmart and VacuumCo at Target. And you know how Hoover will cut their costs? You guessed it, they'll outsource the jobs to low cost countries. And if they don't? They'll get played like Vlasic and end up bankrupt.
But will consumers band together? To a degree, through the most that will do is slightly offset the massive spending by chains and big business. (Plus, don't forget that big companies also have organized like this.)
What consumers can do is vote. Your vote it the equivalent of chains and other big companies spending millions of dollars to influence a politician. Vote at the ballot box for politicans that represent your interests (not a conglomerates). Secondly, vote with your pocketbook. Every time you purchase something it says 'I like this and I'm willing to give some money so that it sticks around.' Don't believe it? Do you think there would be so many McDonalds if they weren't making lots of money? Sorry friend, money and advertising make the world go around now.
So, next time you have a choice try to pick the little guy. Not to be different - not to be anti-establishment; do it because they're worth keeping around even if they're not the cheapest. One day you may miss that diner in the midst of all those Taco Bells.