I feel the same about Waitrose. Perhaps it’s no surprise that the supermarket is owned by the same company. Not that I often have chance to spend an hour or so forgetting my cares browsing its aisles. My nearest one is in Sheffield. I remember the excitement when it opened a few years ago. In fact, a national newspaper got so excited, they asked me to write a piece which examined how Waitrose only opens new branches in upcoming places, and how the opportunity to buy a loaf studded with organic olives whenever you feel like it impacts directly on local property prices.
I will just say this. We aren’t getting a Waitrose in Barnsley any time soon. But we are getting a gigantic Lidl. So go figure the demographics. Remember, this is a town where even shopping at Tesco instead of Asda marks you out as ever-so-slightly upwardly mobile.
That said, be careful not to judge. If it’s foreign cheeses with unpronounceable names you’re after, you’ll find them in both Lidl, a German discount chain with more than 7,200 outlets worldwide, and Waitrose, the only supermarket in the country with the Royal seal of approval – it has an exclusive deal to sell Prince Charles’ Duchy Originals range. It’s just that in Lidl, you can get a jar of olives for about £1.25, and a brown loaf for about 80p.
You might have noticed that I spend rather more time than is good for me thinking about supermarkets. So I was interested to hear the comments of Waitrose chief Mark Price, who insists that Waitrose isn’t posh, it’s “aspirational”.
We could spend hours debating the difference between “posh” and “aspirational”, but frankly, from where I’m sitting, they mean pretty much the same. I’m just glad that when all hope for social mobility appears to be lost, we can still rely on our shopping bag to say more about us than the clothes we wear or the schools we send our children to.
Indeed, I know people who stockpile Sainsbury’s bags and then use them to stuff their Costco bargain booty in so the neighbours are fooled. I even know people who drive 10 miles from Barnsley to shop at Sainsbury’s in Wakefield because our indigenous supermarkets aren’t good enough for them. But if that’s all you have to do with your Saturday morning, you’re beyond reasoning with.
I am still thinking about the recent splurge I had in the Marks & Spencer food aisles, brought on at the end of a hellish few hours in Meadowhall. It was such a rare treat, I remain haunted by the taste of those pork pies. And as I gazed in wonder at the shelves, the voice of my dear, departed Aunty Irene whispered in my ear – “go on, buy it, it’s the best”. She lived next door to us when I was a kid, but definitely had ideas above her two-up, two-down station. I only wish she had lived to visit a Waitrose. Perhaps she would have been tempted away from her beloved “Marks”.
I can’t imagine what Aunty Irene would have made of Netto, the supermarket where I seem to spend most of my waking hours. It’s partly because it’s convenient – there’s one just a few minutes from home – partly because it’s cheap, and partly because the thought of the car-park at Asda, Morrisons or Tesco brings out my sociopathic tendencies. I can nip in and out of Netto in 15 minutes, sanity relatively intact. But I actually get scared in Tesco. It’s too big, the offers confuse me, and I am pathologically incapable of remembering my club-card, so I always feel guilty by the time I finally stagger to the check-out.
You might think that as supermarkets cause me so much angst, the simplest thing would be to order all my shopping online. I know it’s convenient, but it goes against the hunter-gatherer instinct. I did give it a try a few times. But I’ve never trusted it since it ran out of fresh sprouts two days before Christmas, and sent six cans of tinned ones instead.
And quite simply, there’s no fun or challenge in doing it online. We’re all having to tighten our purse strings. So it makes sense to shop around. Anything to reduce the pain of the big weekly shop, parting with £100- plus in one go, with nothing to look forward to except an hour unpacking it and tutting over the receipt. If you catch the current advertising campaign for the Co-operative, promoting its local convenience, you’ll see that they’re getting with the zeitgeist too.
In my fantasies, I’m a French housewife. Popping here and there daily for specific items, with my basket (well, recycled carrier bags) on my arm. So it’s Netto for bread. Aldi for fresh veg. And Poundland for chocolate biscuits. Aspirational? Moi? One day I might even make it to Waitrose again. But not while I can get sun-dried tomatoes in the 99p shop.