Friday, 6 April 2012

How hard it is to change shopping habits

Combino. Goldessa. Lovilio. Baroni. Bluedino. Tenery. Selevita. Saguaro. Cornfarm. Tastino. Sunjui. Tiradoli. Do any of these food brands mean anything to you? I mentioned a few weeks ago that Jeziorki has a new Lidl store, just one kilometre from our house. Now, if you regularly shop at Lidl, you may have encountered the above-mentioned brands. My first visit to our new local Lidl with Eddie was disappointing; and Moni was disappointed too on her first visit there with me last night. We also said the same thing - the shop was full, yet seemed empty.

Today I tried to work out what was wrong. Cartons stacked on pallets immediately give it away as a dyskont. But even so, my impressions were of a nice, clean, modern shop, convenient as anything for us (don't even have to cross a main road to get here). However, besides fresh bakery products and fruit and veg - the shop somehow struck me as bereft of anything I'd normally consider buying (and I went into it ravenously hungry).

There was stuff on the shelves all right - with brand names like Boresa, McEnnedy, Pilos, Pikok, Gardis, Dulano, Grandiol, Eridanous, Sirius, Mr Choc, Castello, Bellarom, La Cestina, Animation, Fin Carré, Rivergate, Mikado - food, but nothing I've ever heard of, let alone tasted. There were soft drink brands like Siti (sounds 'shitty' in Polish) or Freeway Cola. And a rum called James Cook.

Having spent my life shopping in Waitrose, Tesco and Sainsbury's (Kingdomside) and Auchan, Tesco and Géant (now Réal) here in Poland, I'm used to well-known brands from companies like Unilever, Danone, Heinz, Nestlé plus my favourite Polish brands like Tymbark, Henryk Kania, Profi or Santé making up the lion's share of shelf space with one or two retailer own-brands making up the rest.

Lidl has a completely different branding strategy to that employed by the more mainstream retailers. Flood your floorspace with a bewildering multiplicity of invented brands, with the intention of persuading shoppers that they're in a sophisticated deli full of top-notch comestibles but at low, low prices... But hang on - where's the Parmesan? The Roquefort? The pesto? The Lavazza coffee? The fresh tuna steak? The king prawns? The Pinot Noir? The Sauvignon Blanc? This is no deli. It's a dyskont trying to appear deli-like.

The service at Lidl is pleasant and polite; the male shelf-stackers don't use a string of k-words when addressing one another as is the custom at Auchan, and staff will tell you where the item you're looking for is, rather than grunting and pointing vaguely in its direction with their chin. And a huge plus - fruit and veg are weighed at the checkout and not at a separate point (at Auchan you queue separately to to weigh your fruit and veg, your fish, your smoked meats and your cheeses).

My father, a regular at Lidl in Hanwell, has been shopping there for years; one of the highlights of his week is when the Lidl newspaper drops into the letterbox, heralding non-food bargains (telescopes, motorcycle helmets, sphygmometers, digital watches, chainsaws, tool sets etc). Apparently, the thing with the Lidl newspaper specials is they are there at amazingly cheap prices - then they are gone, never to return. But there's always something tempting every week. (next week: carbon fibre Nordic walking poles for 70zł a set, decent UV sunglasses for 12zł, bike lock for 12zł, 34 litre sports rucksack, 84zł). But no continuity of supply. Here today - that's it. A job lot of something interesting and well-made, for a great price - once.

And then there are Lidl's infamous Foreign Food Weeks. These are a bit of a leg-pull. Colleagues from work who've been to their local Lidl for a "British Week" complain that the only things on offer are Village Valley goulash, Stout Yeoman Gouda cheese, Chaucer Farm frankfurters, King George lager and Monastery Bell frozen peas.

At the end of the day, I'm sure I'll get used to it. I'll be there next week for some of that camping stuff for sure, and who knows, I might get to like. There may well be a place for Lidl for some of my regular retail spend.

Left: some fish, before Lent ends; some meat and wine for when it does. I also bought 430g of unprocessed Californian pistachio nuts (40zł/kilo) and three-quarters of a kilo of seedless red grapes (8zł/kilo). The former - great value; the latter contained more seeds than taste.

The prices are good (12zł for Chilean Cab Sauv, 5zł for 100g of smoked salmon), the brands - I've never heard of. Nixo; Petri; OceanSea (that took some inventing! PondLake next?) Cimarosa ('Cimarosa wines are the best wines in the world', the Polish-language information on the label says, so they must be good) , and my favourite - Schwartzwaldrauch ('Blackforestintoxication').

This time last year:
In vino veritas?

This time two years ago:
Are we getting more intelligent?

This time three years ago:
Lenten recipe: tuna, chickpea and pesto salad

This time four years ago:
Coal train sidings, Konstancin-Jeziorna

This time five years ago:
Jeziorki from the air


Sigismundo said...

Actually, Lidl's stuff during "British week" is quite good. They do an excellent mature cheddar at not much more than they charge for their Emmenthaler (which BTW is a genuine Austrian product, not the rather vapid Polish-made Ementalski available in other chains at roughly the same price). Then there is Scottish shortbread and piccalilli, both quite good imitations...

I think last time Lidl's British range was branded as "Hatherwood" – obviously they have a crack team thinking up all these wacky names. It would be rather dull if it was all branded as 'Lidl' now wouldn't it?

Strangely enough, when in Poland I quite like going to Lidl. The stores are not too big so you can complete your shop in under an hour, and the quality is not much different to what is available in Auchan, Carrefour and Géant (or Tesco for that matter).

In the UK on the other hand I steer well clear of Lidl: the food quality is just not up to the standards of the UK chains, the staff are unhelpful and appear to be completely brain-dead, the store layout is a complete mess, and somehow I feel depressed just walking into a British Lidl store.

As for the quality of Lidl non-food items: it really is a raffle. I bought some socks there a few months back and holes developed the very first time I wore them; on the other hand some specialist walking socks are still going strong two/three years on. Electrical items (headphones, night lights, doorbells, to give specific examples) all seem to develop mysterious faults within a few weeks. Come to think of it, I will no longer buy an electrical item of any description at Lidl.

Wojtek z Brukseli said...

Dear Michael,

Just one clarification - Schwarzwaldrauch (without a "t") should be translated as "Schwarzwald Smoke", and not intoxication. The name refers to the famous Schwarzwald (Black Forest) Ham.

Pozdrawiam serdecznie,


wersy said...

When Lidl came to Poland, thue quality of its own-branded products was absolutely absymal, but they have found a bunch of competent cooperators since then.

1. Fantastic cottage cheese by Pilos - I grew addicted to it, can't eat the Piatnica one I ate all my life anymore.
2. Krakowska Sucha by Pikok.
3. Tea Tofee rings by Tofino.
4. Greek alamonds in honey bars.
5. Kiełbasa Jałowcowa i Myśliwska.
6. Freshly baked Croissants.
7. Some J. D. Gross chocolate products are also nice for the price.