A Marriage of Convenience Foods: Supermarkets and Me

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As a consumer I tend to be rather on the loyal side – John lewis is practically my middle name – but I have decided to try to be more canny in the cash department, at least when it comes to the Supermarket Shop.

Here I must confess to having had a long series of dalliances, from the cheap and cheerful sunny-side-up stuff-the-aises-full plenitude of Morrisons, to the organic watercress, dressed crab, freshly-flown-in-Feta philanthropy of Waitrose.

In between there have been serious relationships with Sainsburys, Gateway, Safeway, Marks and Spencer and Ocado as well as several supermarkets in Qatar, these latter being high on price but with absolutely the best service, fuelled no doubt by the civilised practice of tipping someone to pack your shopping and then wheel it (plus any small children in your possession) to your car. Sadly they did stop short of driving you home, unpacking it for you and babysitting your children, but no doubt for a price this could be arranged.

I guess all this makes me a serial mono-shopperist – and believe me, I have form. First, there’s the exciting, exploratory honeymoon period. That moment when you have abandoned the OLD supermarket in favour of the enticing new one, the one that lures you in with offers of 3 for 2 or double loyalty points. You whizz around, the trolley light to your touch and you are even smiling when you reach the checkout. The assistant is witty and charming, you don’t have to pay for carrier bags, and she exhorts you to have a nice day as you leave. Of course you will! How could you possibly not, having spent such a wonderful time, as well as much of your hard-earned money, in the pursuit of a better own-brand?

This continues immutably until suddenly one day you notice things look different, at least to you. The stock looks tired, your trolley wheels are sticking and there are gaps on the shelf where the things on your list ought to have been, but aren’t. Oh and you’ve dropped your shopping list in the freezer section where it’s now adhered to a leaking tub of Cornish ice cream.

To alienate you even more, the shop assistants stand around talking, ignoring your frantic attempts to interrupt their account of last night’s pub quiz. You’ve accidentally put the £5.99 pizza in your trolley because the £3.99 one you really wanted is out of stock and the empty space has been filled – quite deliberately – with another product. Supermarkets hate vacuums after all, unless used to prevent you opening a plastic-wrapped product- then they quite like them.

Your trolley’s wheels have moved (but not in the locomotive sense) from sticking to utterly b******y locked and you are now hauling about a tonne of shopping in a frenetic Whacky Races-esque way, lurching dangerously from side to side, Chianti bottles clattering, as your jarred vertebrae decide whether to pop out or not.

The love affair is probably over – and it’s time for a change of partner; the rosé wine tinted spectacles have finally come off, I kid you not. You can start internet-shopping -dating once again. A vacancy has arisen and this time it’s not on the shelves.

At the risk of sounding like a supermarket slut, I can assure you that I have been there, bought that, got the T shirt many times over. And I’m not a snob either. I can just as well be wooed by the tawdry, back-street bargain basement Del-boy pile-it-high sell-it-quick tat, as I can be wined and dined and made to feel (or rather spend) a million dollars at a higher-than-high end establishment, the sort where you change your clothes into something smarter before you go shopping.

So where am I now? Who is the love of my shopping life right now? For whom am I off my trolley?

Well I hardly like to say, really, I feel as though I am keeping a mistress (or perhaps as I’m female, a gigolo) in the closet, safe from my real partner, and I just hope they never meet. Because for the last few weeks I have been dating both a well-presented middle classer and a lower end grafter, and both have made me feel wonderful. I can’t tell you who they are, but HRH Prince Charles has an exclusive relationship with one of them for the sale of his Duchy products (magnificent, if I may say so), whilst the other has three of the same letters in its name as Lidl and also the same number. There. Work it our for yourselves.

I confess that today I’ve already had my fix of Mr Not-Lidl-but-sounds-quite-like-it. In fact we have now progressed to the meet-the-family stage, as today I took along a 90-year-old relative, and my daughter has also been shopping there with me. I think the family are surprised at my taste, but concede that good value is to be had. Although already, the cracks in this three-week-old relationship are starting to show just a little.

The first two shopping trips were so inexpensive that I had to contain myself from bursting out laughing when I reached the checkout. I don’t think I have ever spent that little before in a supermarket, and yet got so much stuff that actually went on to be not just edible but rather delicious too.

So obviously I went back for more, supermarket parsimony being my new greedy ideal. Today I wasn’t quite as careful though. The bargains looked too enticing and I slipped a few impulse buys into the trolley, like Gorgonzola, some smoked cheese with little bits of chilli in it and a box of rewritable DVD’s that my OH insisted he needed. Oh, then there was the beer, the washing powder and a bit more booze. In fact it was my OH who commented post checkout that it can’t be many people that actually manage to spend £** in this particular establishment.

And then there was the ungentlemanly or at least ungentle behaviour at the checkout. I refer to the size-challenged conveyor belts, which looked as though they were a job lot with the important bit missing….the bit your shopping actually ends up on so you can pack it. I did a double take… where was the end of the checkout? Had someone stolen it? Had it been looted in the August riots? Because it wasn’t there now and my scanned shopping was accruing at what seemed the speed of light.

The tomatoes led the way onto the floor, and the over active checkout girl could barely contain her frustration that I was not able to pack my shopping as quickly and carelessly as she could scan it. In the end she was literally flinging it into my trolley, any hope I had of packing in a sensible and product-friendly manner were as dashed as she was dashing through my trolley load. I swear she did it on purpose, and next time I intend to tell her that it’s not me that is slow but her that is aggressively quick. Maybe she is paid according to numbers of customers checked out, I don’t know.

But I do know that shopping is stressful enough without this at the end of it, and if things don’t improve between me and Mr Not-Lidl-but-sounds-quite-like-it, I may find myself checking out too.

But I don’t care. I can cast my Netto yetto again… I’m not quite past my use-by date so I don’t expect I’ll be on the shelf for too long before my next marriage of convenience foods comes along…

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