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Supermarkets and social class

As we were going to Sainsburys this morning  I was having a chat with our French guest Christine about supermarkets. I asked her whether she agreed with my hunch that your preferred supermarket says a good deal about your social class in Britain, whereas in France supermarkets are rather class neutral. We all know that there is a class pecking order in Britain which begins with Waitrose/M and S at the top, and descends via Sainsburys, Tesco, Morrissons and Asda, down to Lidl and Aldi. The same phenomenon does not exist in France. Carrefour, Leclerc, U, Auchan and even Leader Price are as likely to be frequented by the wealthier as by those of modest income.

A quick google finds this from The Guardian in 2004:

"Verdict Research, for instance, has found that Waitrose has the highest proportion of shoppers from the professional social classes A and B (47%), followed by Sainsbury's (34%), Marks & Spencer (22%), Tesco (21%) and Safeway (17%). At the bottom of the market, 72% of Netto's shoppers are blue-collar Ds or Es, with Kwik Save (66%), Lidl (54%) and Somerfield (50%) close behind."

In the same article Jonathan Meades (he of the dark glasses and dark suits from the excellent Jonathan Meades on France recently broadcast on BBC4) claims:

"If you take a labourer in Marseilles and a CEO in Marseilles, they will eat approximately the same food," says Meades. "In this country there is no link between what a guy who is working in a building site in Southampton eats and the guy who runs that site - they eat completely different things."

A slight exaggeration? Maybe, but the point is clear. In the food domain at least, even if there has been a democratisation of eating habits, in Britain, you are where you shop.

Of course, this leads to some clever marketing in the UK. The posher supermarkets charge more for the same products and make more profit as a result. When they sense their market share is falling, they make a play for customers who wish to pay less by means of economy branding. Price differentials between the major chains in France, however, are less noticeable, except when you go to the stack-'em-high-sell-'em-cheap stores such as Netto and Lidl.

So would it be too much of an exaggeration to say that supermarkets are a reflection of the country?  A more egalitarian France (not immune from social class, of course) has the supermarkets it wants. Or maybe French supermarket chains have yet to learn how to market themselves more effectively to maximise their profits.


  1. I hope the thinking embodied in the article prevails as my partner and I regularly shop in Lidl and Aldi and we would like it to stay relatively empty. I first started going to buy Frikadellen and other such German "delicacies". Before long I started adding to the basket, then trolley with the excellent cheesy coleslaw and potato salad, followed by the huge salamis. It wasn't long before we were doing most of our shop there and coming out with something like a sanding machine, two pairs of cycling shorts or barbecue griddle for the same price as the shop without the latter goods at Tesco or where ever. People in the know do like Lidl and Aldi especially now they have added bakeries where you can get some of the best croissants I've had in this country. Best deal ever from Lidl was a very solid cycle stand, made in Germany, £29.99. Nearest thing on the normal cycle market approx £80. And despite what prejudice says of the discounters it's the only supermarket I go to where people happily wave you through if you've only got one or two bits and pieces. I gather Aldi also pays its employees very well unlike bulging walleted Tesco.


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