Supermarket shifts: 10 big changes in 20 years

From the rise of German discounters to unexpected items in the bagging area, the supermarket experience has changed dramatically since the 1990s

Mon, Apr 28, 2014, 01:00

The stakes are always changing in the Irish supermarket sweeps and the way Irish consumers shop has changed dramatically over the past 20 years. Retailers have come and gone, and many of the products we buy today are barely recognisable from what would have been found in a typical trolley in the mid-1990s. Here are some of the bigger changes.

1 The rise and rise of the discounter


In the mid-1990s, the names Lidl and Aldi were unfamiliar to most Irish shoppers. That started to change in 1998, when Lidl announced it was moving into the Irish market. A year later, the discounter was joined by another German company, Aldi. Growth for the pair was slow in the early days, with Irish people reluctant to swap the branded products they loved for unfamiliar labels.

Their relatively spartan shelves did Lidl and Aldi no favours either, and, while people were faintly amused by the eclectic weekly specials on offer, the allure of the lump hammers, fleece onesies and flame throwers was not enough to bring people through their doors in significant numbers. When the bubble burst in the middle of the last decade, everything changed, and the growth of both retailers has been relentless ever since.

Over the past three years, the German discounters have captured a combined 3.8 share points from the competition, and have grown sales by 37 per cent in an overall grocery market that has grown by just 1 per cent. Aldi now commands 7.9 per cent of the total grocery spend, with Lidl 0.4 per cent behind it.

2 Demise of the ‘Quinns’

While business

at Aldi and Lidl has been booming, two of the main players in the Irish retail world have disappeared altogether. First to go was Quinnsworth, which was founded by Pat Quinn in the mid-1960s, with the first branch opening in Dublin’s Stillorgan. He sold the chain to Powers Supermarkets in the early 1970s, which later became part of Associated British Foods (this was the company that gave us the term “yellow-pack” in the early 1980s). It was bought by Tesco in 1997, which now employs more than 15,000 people in 142 stores, with an annual turnover of more than€3 billion.

Superquinn has gone, too. It was founded by Feargal Quinn in Dundalk in 1960 and grew into a 24-store chain where the customer really was king. The quality of the produce was highly regarded. In 2005, Quinn sold to Select Retail Holdings for €450 million. Things went disastrously wrong for the group very soon after, and within five years it was in serious trouble. SuperValu came to its rescue, and all its stores were rebranded under new livery earlier this year. All that is left of the Superquinn name are the sausages – and even they are a shadow of what they once were.

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