Sunday, December 18, 2011

Supermarkets a "World" Tour

Supermarkets of the World!

This month Anthony takes us global grocery shopping, to sample some of the differences and tastes of supermarkets around the world.

Ok, so “of the world” might be a bit of an exaggeration, rather these are some of my lazy observations from previous international travel. My most recent trip was to the United Kingdom so those supermarkets are most fresh in the memory. But Europe and the Americas also feature.

Brand Choice

Being used to the effective duopoly in supermarkets in Australia, I have noted a wider variety of choice in supermarket brands in Europe and the Americas. For instance, in the UK, the dominant four are Tesco, Asda, Sainsbury’s and Morrison, however there are a range of other brands competing for market position, such as Aldi, Booths, Iceland, Farmfoods, Waitrose and Lidl. Some of these players have adopted a particular market niche, such as Booths positioning itself in the North West of England. Its store signage promotes this regional point of difference and its sourcing of local produce. I have been reliably informed by the locals that Booths used to be a small, down-market store, far inferior to the likes of Tesco. But it has repositioned itself as an up-market store with high quality fresh produce.

Iceland and Farmfoods have also positioned themselves in a particular sector, namely frozen goods. Neither of these would be described as full-line supermarkets, rather they are more comparable to a small Aldi size. The Iceland I visited had five aisles, four of which were banks of freezers offering a full range of frozen goods such as vegetables, desserts, pre-prepared meals, pizzas, chips, etc. The remaining aisle, incidentally the busiest when I visited, had a limited range of dry groceries, crisps and confectionery.


The thing that most people associate with shopping in the United States is “big”. I certainly observed the bigness of supermarkets in terms of building size, car parking and product size. But what I recall most about supermarkets in South America (namely Chile, Peru and Argentina) is “small”. Small store sizes, small aisle-ways, small product sizes. I observed this in major cities like Lima and Santiago and also in the regional towns. However, this may be a skewed observation as I did not have a car to explore the cities’ suburbs.


Oh, the delis, oh my! We have a pretty good range of deli produce in our supermarkets in Australia, but the French and Italian delis (I know I am shamelessly place name dropping here) in supermarkets are a step up again. The cheeses, cured meats and prepared meals were in abundance. The seafood range was good, though obviously different to what we are used to. The prepared meals were my favourite. Even in small towns, the supermarket delis contained a wide variety of prepared meals, and several times while visiting our dinner ritual consisted of rolling up to a supermarket, salivating over the deli, randomly selecting a meal, then reheating and eating. Bourguignon! Bouillabaisse! Blanquette! Bon app├ętit!


Given the level of competition, it is unsurprising that supermarkets have been trying to differentiate themselves with extra facilities and services. In the UK, store types such as Tesco Extra or Sainsbury’s Superstore offer a broader array of products than a typical supermarket. But a range of non-core services were also evident in a more typical supermarket. Extra services such as cafes, travel agents, currency exchange, pharmacy, optician, banking and insurance were evident and on-line grocery ordering and delivery appeared to be more established and widespread than in Australia. Cafes in supermarkets appear to be standard in the UK and popular as an easy and cheap meal alternative. The larger format stores also have a wide variety of products we might not typically consider as supermarket lines, such as electronics, white goods, clothing and alcohol.

And one final note on grocery shopping in the UK, I have been told for years by ex-pats that Cadbury UK chocolate tastes different to and better than Australian Cadbury, and I have to agree. But Galaxy beats them both hands down. I pledge to diligently continue this research and keep you informed.

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