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Sunday, 20 January 2013

All this and dry oloroso

First, a little tutorial on British supermarkets. Tesco is the biggest. Seeking to be universal it lacks individual style and suffers love/hate from its shoppers; most have no other option. Sainsbury, after a rocky period, now occupies a class niche two steps up from Tesco, offering two types of coffee filter, a more rounded policy on tuna paté, anya potatoes (uniquely in Hereford), and superior sausages. Morrisons revels in being Northern and working class, evident in certain cheaper cuts of meat. As to Asda, it wouldn't matter if it gave the stuff away VR would prefer to starve to death, burning with a gem-like flame of antipathy towards the practices of the US parent, Wal-Mart.

Which leaves Waitrose. Despite its socialistic structure (all employees are shareholders and reap handsome dividends at the year end) Waitrose is the darling of the middle-classes. Staff are bonus-civilised, the butcheries are visibly better than, say, Super-U, Intermarché or Leclerc in France, the cakes are delicately formed and imaginative, the area devoted to vegetables and fruit always seems bigger than that of its British competitors and it offers dry oloroso sherry.

Our nearest Waitrose is 25 miles away in Wales which means adding £6 of diesel to the bill. Do we care? Do we hell! We go there once a month, mid-morning when it's at its quietest, expecting to browse and make impulse purchases.

But Waitrose also has intelligent shoppers. Mid-morning last Thursday things were chaotic, the aisles choked. No browsing possible. We couldn't complain. Thursday night it snowed heavily on South Wales but one assumes the boyos and boyesses ate well in their mountain fastnesses. Not panic, just controlled urgency. I liked that, toasted them all in oloroso on snow-girt Friday night.


marja-leena said...

I remember shopping a few times at Sainsbury's and Planet Organics in Muswell HIl when we were there in 2009 and liked both, though small compared to our over-large supermarkets. I share V's antipathy to that certain US store, though it's not a food store here, yet.

Daughter's home had a tiny under-counter fridge and little storage space so almost daily shopping by foot with carry bags were the norm there, just as I remember it used to be in Finland and Germany, and probably still is for those in small apartments and without cars. Here, as you know, we tend to do a big weekly or bi-weekly trip with the car to fill big fridges. Your once-a month trip sounds reaonable in comparison!

Rouchswalwe said...

Living in Japan, I didn't have a car. I think I picked up the language much faster than my compatriots because I stayed away from the western-style supermarkets and shopped at the Mom-n-Pops on the way home. Here in the States, I consider myself fortunate in that there is an independent grocer nearby. The choice isn't vast, but what they have on the shelves is perfect for my needs. As for that certain US megastore, I wouldn't shop there if it were the last place on earth.

Roderick Robinson said...

M-L and RW (zS): VR will be pleased to note that neither of you seemed able to write - perhaps even utter - the W word.

Joe Hyam said...

Morrisons has an interesting history in Tunbridge Wells. It was there briefly for a while when it acquired the Safeway chain, which included a relatively small outlet opposite the station. Soon though they moved out leaving the site vacant. This robbed shoppers of a supermarket in the centre of the town and was specially hard on car-less shoppers. There was much protest. It was rumoured that Waitrose wanted to buy the lease of the empty store, but were being blocked by Morrisons who held the lease. The store lay empty. The rumour was apparenty true. Eventually our MP and the Leader of T W Borough Council both wrote to Morrisons to protest at their intrangigence. They should let Wiatrose in. No such luck. Rather than submit Morrisons decided to reopen a Morrisons branch. But announced that it would aim to be up market to suit the local population. It is certainly far from the cheap and cheerful working class Northern image you suggest. The display on a large central unit(the first thing you see when you enter)of vegetables and herbs surrounded by plenty of space and shrouded in a cool mist released from a hidden refrigeration unit, is spectacular, as is the variety of produce. It puts Waitrose to shame. The Morrisons meat counter, though not better than Waitrose, offers dry sirloins and fillets of 5-week dry hung beef, apart from meat of more usual provenance. We are particularly impressed with their English lamb. We still go out of our way to find Waitrose when we need to, but Morrisons deserve some credit for their entrerprise.

Roderick Robinson said...

Joe: I am astonished. I didn't imagine that any supermarket could be that flexible, And in the old days, when Sir Ken was in charge, Morrison's wouldn't have been.

My post was a once-over-lightly and I didn't touch on the crucial matter of supermarkets and geography, a factor which clearly played a part in the TN Morrison. Also the stylistic matter of the apostrophe s. More follows.

Roderick Robinson said...

Joe's second comment (below) arrived at my email inbox but not at my blog. Probably because I was fiddling with Chrome at the time. (Sorry Lucy: as before Chrome brings a shedload of problems)

Joe: Things have certainly changed since Sir Ken's day. Morrisons big store in Crowborough would probably not have opened when he was in charge as Crowborough is another posh area. On the other hand Crowborough does boast a Liddel so pehaps I'm wrong about that. Was he around when Morrisons moved south? I see from the financial pages that Morrisons is beginning to lag behind Sainsburys and Tesco because it has not ventured into convenence stores, and behind Waitrose too, because they have eschewed home delivery. Both home delivery and convenience stores requires investment which takes time show returns.

I usually use the apostrophe but in deference to you omitted it in this conversation.

Roderick Robinson said...

Joe: I take it Crowborough is too far away for a casual visit. A pity. Some surreptitious photographs of cars arriving at the Lidl car park (Look out for Audi; the make often says a lot about the driver/owner) plus a bit of over-hearing in the check-out might well provide valuable sociological evidence about well-heeled Tory voters prepared to step down the ladder briefly and save themselves a few pennies.

Joe Hyam said...

Tory voters of my acquaintance visit Lidl in search of bargains fairly regularly. Bargains mean a lot to them, which is probably why they are richer than I. They can afford a car which I can't, or else I'd be wolfing lobster with the best of them.