Magazine article The Spectator

Nice Pork, Pity about the Pizza

Magazine article The Spectator

Nice Pork, Pity about the Pizza

Article excerpt

Intrigued by reports that the middle classes are shopping at the German discount stores Aldi and Lidl -- and even stuffing their purchases in Waitrose bags -- I set off to track them down. My nearest Lidl is a couple of miles from my house at the northern end of Cricklewood Broadway -- not exactly an area known for yummy-mummy sightings, and without a Starbucks or Caffè Nero for miles.

Yet the statistics say that sales at both Aldi and Lidl have been growing strongly since householders have been hit by higher petrol and utility bills. The latest figures from market research firm Taylor Nelson Sofres showed Aldi and Lidl increasing their market shares by 19.8 per cent and 12.3 per cent respectively. In Aldi's case, this boosted its market share to a new record of 3 per cent -- only one percentage point behind Waitrose -- while Lidl has 2.3 per cent.

When measured against Tesco's 31.6 per cent these incursions look small -- but still they are credited with bringing Tesco's growth in market share to a halt over the past quarter. Their success has spurred Tesco to embark on a secret project to see how it can compete more effectively against this no-frills, low-cost model. Tesco's boss, Sir Terry Leahy, remember, believes that 'only the paranoid survive'.

When the discounters first arrived in the early 1990s, Tesco's response was to launch its 'Value' range while Sainsbury's, Asda and Safeway all embarked on a price war.

By the mid-Nineties the big groups believed they had seen off the foreign invaders: 'We have really hurt the discounters, ' announced David Sainsbury, the then chairman of the family firm, at one annual meeting. But they refused to go away. The credit crunch, along with the demise of Kwik Save, has given them the opportunity to flex their muscles again.

Aldi and Lidl both have around 400 stores in Britain, typically in unfashionable suburbs and scruffy inner-city enclaves where sites are cheaper. Both plan to open more.

At Lidl, I parked in the front-of-store car park and looked around for a Chelsea Tractor, an Audi or even a Golf. But I saw only aged small Fords and their Japanese equivalents. Inside the store, I braced myself for cheap and nasty, but my first impressions were more cheap and cheerful. The vomitcoloured flooring was a mistake, but bright strip lighting illuminated reasonably wide aisles and colourful signs boasted 'That's cheap' about almost everything.

If the middle classes were cruising the aisles, they were heavily disguised. All I saw were young families -- of rainbow ethnicity and with several children in tow -- who were clearly on a tight budget. There were also some young East European singles, and elderly people, evidently of modest means; but no young professionals, no Boden-clad children and no affluent grey or even pink consumers with or without Waitrose bags.

The big four British supermarkets give you fruit and veg at the front of the store, but Lidl gives you mountains of multipacks of bottled water still sitting on their pallets.

One of the ways Lidl and Aldi save money is to bring goods into the store as delivered, cutting down on shelf stacking. The other tactics are no baskets, only big trolleys, no free bags (9p for a strong Lidl bag) and cash or debit cards only. They also limit the number of lines to around 10,000, compared with 40,000 in an average supermarket -- a mercy for those of us who get dazzled by 14 types of mushrooms. They employ minimal staff, who seem to view customers with a mixture of disdain and suspicion. …

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