Sunday, 16 September 2012

Food shopping in Warsaw - some thoughts

Where to shop for food? Well, ever since Géant pulled out of Poland to be replaced by Real, the bulk of my retail spend has gone to Auchan, which wins over other shops because it's a) close, b) offers a wide variety and c) is the cheapest.

WHAT??? Well, apparently - it is. According to this story in Friday's Gazeta Wyborcza. Based on extensive research, it appears that a basket of 50 of the most popular products (mainly food but also including cleaning products and cosmetics) is cheapest in Auchan.

Above: graphic from Gazeta Wybocza, based on source data from and PortalSpoż

My first reaction was to check the methodology - Auchan has a wider range of branded products than the others, thus putting it at an advantage; but no - where there's no branded product stocked, the own-brand equivalent would be considered.

So well done Auchan. What is also interesting is that Lidl fares badly on price (where it should be cheaper, given its strategy, that Żabka is so expensive (but then hey, it's a convenience store - it has to pay for its longer opening hours somehow), and that Alma is cheaper than Tesco.

Alma! Foodie shopper heaven. What a delight to step in there - not for a bag of Cheesy Wotsits, a Mars Bar, a can of Coke and some Haribo sour bears' tongues. Heavens forfend! No, Alma is the place to go for smoked Tuna fillet, Spanish goat cheeses, exquisitely smoked hams from Kraków, crema di Balsamico, truffle-scented olive oils - one does not shop at Alma because it's cheaper than Tesco. Alma is the nearest thing you get in Poland to a Harrod's food hall.

So what about Lidl, recently opened in Jeziorki? I go there often, because it's closest - a ten-minute stroll from home. It has very, very few things we want, so I while I shop there frequently, I only buy a handful. Yesterday's trip - no bananas, no lemons, none of the branded products on my list. Lidl does a handful of things I buy. The Best Bread on Earth (currently) - Chleb Drwalski (Dr. Walski's bread?) - rich in taste, multigrain, and utterly wonderful (I'm eating some now with Roquefort, bought at Auchan as Lidl fails to stock any). And Lidl does good, no-nonsense Australian red wine, a Shiraz-Cabernet priced at 12.99 zlotys, around two pound fifty. Plus its own-brand beers ('Argus') come from the Czech Republic and are much better than budget Polish beers.

What's new at Auchan? A pleasing development is the veritable flood of regional beers of all different sorts, smashing the near-monopoly of Lech/Tyskie, Okocim and Żywiec, and the appearance of shandy (beer/lemonade mix). Though it's cheaper and more satisfying mixing your own.

POSTSCRIPT: Can you buy Parmesan cheese in the centre of Warsaw? Other than a four-tram-stop round trip to the Terraces of Gold - no. The laughably-named Delikatesy on al. Jerozolimskie (between Rondo Dmowskiego and Krucza) sells about four types of blando Polish cheese, while the MarcPol round the corner on Marszałkowska does carry grated ersatz hard Italian cheese in a small plastic bag - OK, but not the real thing.


Anonymous said...

Michael - I was surprised a bit by some of the results however it is quite interesting.

We are generally sold on Auchan - favorites are: Parma Ham (sliced to order), Buffalo Mozzarella, very good cheese selection, good fresh breads, fresh mussels & clams, tuna steaks and scallops. I would also say their selection of fruit and veg is the best around but I wish they would refrigerate things like lettuce as they are usually limp.

I like Piotr & Pawel over Alma, like API in Konstancin (for their szynka noga), like Lidl for olive oil, skin cream, very good quality/cheap razors and blades and that bread you speak of. Hate the new 'Simply Market' in Konstancin (owned by Auchan)


Anonymous said...

Down here in the south, a lot of people have given up on the Auchan in Beilsko Biala because it is very disorganized and the prices have been steadily climbing.

We are all awaiting the opening of Kaufland in Zywiec (right behind Tesco) even though we already have 3 x Biedronka, Tesco, Lidl, Aldi, Lewiatan, Carrefour, Intermarche and a newly opened Euro Sklep. Not to mention all the little shops around town! The Lidl in Zywiec had a promotion this past weekend for 10% off everything which was quite nice to stock up on biscuits and various other items.

Michael Dembinski said...

@ Bob, Anon; we must give thanks that Poland still maintains such a diversity when it comes to food retailing; in the UK, a mere four chains sell 77% of all food bought by Brits. Good to see so many retailers fighting it out, good to see the local independent shops still able to deliver fresh bread and fruit'n'veg each morning. Long may it thus continue!

Paddy said...

Oh this is one of my favourite subjects. I live in Mokotów so the lack of nearby hypermarkets hits the pocket smewhat. If I had a cheese grater for every time I'd embarked on a hunt for Parmesan I could have opened a factory by now!


Sigismundo said...

I'm amazed that Spolem is still in business. (iirc Bomi, recently went bust).

Last time I visited a Spolem store (which, for the record, I have no intention of ever doing again in my lifetime), Nescafe Gold 200g jars were 37pln, while 'Western' supermarkets had them at 25-28pln. Other products were proportionately almost as expensive. The staff are rude, bolshy, abrasive, uninterestered, little changed from 1989; and the scarce clientelle (stores are usually nearly empty), are mainly in their 60s or older. My heart goes out to all these pensioners, who rather than spending their paltry groats at the cheaper Western chains, are sticking with what they know. (A Polish pension really doesn't go very far, and Spolem is guaranteed to make it go far, far less.)

Having said that, Auchan on Pulawska has always been my favourite supermarket in the whole of Poland – fantastic selection, and not bad prices.

Alas, the Auchan execs have seen these statistics, and now the prices will almost certainly rise. said...

When I lived in Warszawa I often went to Szembeka plac. it seems to be cheaper and better quality as in shopping malls?

Anonymous said...

For parmesan try the delicatessen in Vitkac on ul. Bracka. A foodie heaven but take your bank manager!

scatts said...

Have not shopped at Auchan for more than 10 years, back in the days when the choice was seriously restricted and their shop on Puławska was almost the only choice. With a new one soon to open in Łomianki, a short drive north and the only hypermarket around here aside from Makro, we shall be trying them out again.

I assume your Parmesan shop is the little Italian deli on Emilii Plater close to ZT? Didn't realize it was so hard to find but then we don't use it a great deal. I could have brought a load back from Tuscany and made a few bob by the sounds of it!

AndrzejK said...

I do my day to day grocery shopping in Twoje Delikatesy on ul. Wilanowska. They have parmesan, cheddar (albeit Irish) and a good selection of condiments from around the world. It takes 10 minutes at most, you can park right outside the door and proces are not much higher than the so called disounts.

For fruit and veg I use the stalls on the way home from the office in the little shopping mall under most Poniatowskiego.

Wedliny and meats are the subject of a weekly pilgrimage to Befsztyk on the corner of Pulawska and Woronicza (just avoid Saturdays).

Auchan I treat with the contempt it deserves visiting once every three months for Pedigree Pal for Oskar, cat food, bog paper and Persil. I will start using the internet home delivery service assuming there are no hidden charges.

The Polish consumer unfortunately is treated as an idiot by the multiples/ discounters. For instance Pedigree Pal now comes in an improived formula (apparently even better so called "back end performance" - i.e. less farts. Auchan proudly states that the price has not been increased per large bag. What they don't say is that the old formula came in a 10 Kg bag, the new is only 8.4 Kg. Quite a price hike.

Actually the reason I hate the multiples is the lenght of time it takes to find where things are, the way they treat manufacturers (talk to any manufacturer) and the fact that they simply do not stock certain items (try finding Torciki Wedlowskie for instance).

Anonymous said...

One thing I like about Lidl is their "theme weeks". There are weeks that feature Greek, Spanish, German, Scandinavian, British.... etc. products. Their brown sauce is great and much less expensive than imported HP!