Supermarket sweep: a shopping challenge
Last week we held a mirror in front of the State’s seven main supermarkets to see which was the fairest of them all
The aisles are long and wide and there is a lot of stock – there is a paucity of nice fresh fruit, however, and what is on display seems tired.
There is also an awful lot of signage to deal with. Tesco is very keen to tell its shoppers how its prices compare to Lidl, and there are dozens of signs under products boasting that the price is the same here as it is there – we’d be more impressed if the price was lower.
There are more than 20 aisles in this Tesco and we can buy everything from microwave ovens to dressing gowns to freshly baked bread and frozen ready meals.
There is a lot of stock but not a lot of staff. In fact, we saw only three on a shop floor about five times the size of M&S, where there were 14.
The staff member we approach about our soy sauce dilemma is cheery and knows exactly where to find it. He even goes the extra mile – and given the size of the store, we mean that almost literally – by walking us to the product.
An indication of how keen Tesco is to reduce staff numbers is the number of automated tills in each store. Pricewatch decides it can’t be dealing with the “unexpected item in bagging area” chatter that comes from these horrendous machines, and instead we queue to have our items scanned by a real person.
We are greeted with a smile and a hello, and the woman seems mildly interested in our banal chit chat about the weather. Our mood darkens when the Tesco bag we paid 22 cent for shreds as we leave the store – it could scarcely have been less reliable had it been made with wet tissue paper.
At ¤32.03 for our basket, Tesco reveals itself to be slightly dearer than Supervalu, although the practice of price-matching means that difference is marginal.
Star rating: ***
Aldi has grown its market share in Ireland at a remarkable rate in recent months, and as other retailers have performed sluggishly, the German discounter has seen its market share increase dramatically. In the 12 weeks up to the middle of last month, Aldi recorded sales growth of 29 per cent, and its market share has gone up from 4.6 per cent last year to 5.9 per cent now. It is now the fifth-most-popular supermarket in the State, having moved ahead of its main rival Lidl for the first time late last year.
It also has some very good quality stock and some very keen prices. When we go shopping there it is not, however, a nice experience. There are four staff on the shop floor – not bad when you consider it is a fraction of the size of the Tesco nearby, which had a similar number. But all the employees seem to be in bad form.
When we ask where the soy sauce is, a young staff member waves her hand in our face and says: “Second aisle. Top shelf.” Then she goes back to emptying a pallet on to the shelves. Our encounter with the chap at the till is equally grim and our “Nice day?” is greeted with what can most charitably be described as a grunt.
Because the shop is small and the stock limited, and because we can resist the charms of the 210 litre water butt set and the mixing taps on special in the centre aisle, we get through our list very fast.
We have to pack our groceries very fast too because Aldi, and Lidl, have a packing policy that means you are not supposed to bag your items at the till, but dump them back into your trolley and take them to a bagging area to pack them. While that might make life easier for Aldi, and have a knock-on effect on till-queueing times, it does not enhance our shopping experience or our mood.
Still, people do not go to Aldi to make friends or to cheer themselves up, so the thing to focus on is price. It is perhaps higher than we thought but that is because we went for the store’s excellent Specially Selected sirloin, which does come at a premium.
All told, our basket of 10 items comes to ¤41.25. But that includes a kilo of its very high-end and very,very good steak. Were we to take that out of our basket, the full price would have been ¤14.61, compared with ¤19.54 for the Tesco basket minus the steak, while in Supervalu the steak-less price would have been ¤20.34.
Verdict: Low prices, high quality, awful service
Star rating: ****
There is a Lidl not far from the Aldi we visit.It is, if anything, grimmer still. The first impression is very good indeed and we get a wafting smell of freshly baked bread as soon as we walk through the door.
We are sure we are being duped by some air-conditioning wizardry until we catch sight of large ovens and a baker turning out freshly baked loaves near the entrance.
It is downhill from here, however. This Lidl seems more cramped and it is definitely busier than the local Aldi. There are long queues at the tills and they move very slowly. We like the specials and are tempted by the satellite dish for 50 quid. We are less tempted and more intrigued by the massive power generator that could have been ours for ¤200.