For more than a decade, Absolutely Fabulous actress Jane Horrocks boosted her income by fronting an ad campaign for supermarket giant Tesco. Now she’s revealed that, in real-life, she finds shopping there a ‘scary’ experience due to the high number of ‘chavs’ who frequent the stores. But surely she’s just being snooty? Here, CLAUDIA CONNELL presents her tongue-in-cheek guide to the tribes that different supermarkets attract...
What does your supermarket say about you?
Who Shops There? Yummy mummies with an au pair in tow to take care of Tabitha and Henry while they fill the trolley; thirty-something smug couples who share the cooking; and Bridget Jones singletons who’ve heard (mythical) stories of finding love in the supermarket aisles.
The Waitrose Experience: These people wouldn’t dream of letting a sausage roll or a Mr Kipling Fondant Fancy darken their shopping trolley. Every item is carefully scrutinised for nutritional content, calories and organic credentials before being purchased.
Words like ‘hand cut’ and ‘sustainable’ feature heavily on the packaging and, thanks to backing by celebrity chefs, it’s full of people excitedly buying the ingredients for Heston’s wacky duck-and-daffodil pie followed by Delia’s thoroughly sensible rhubarb crumble.
The Good: Staff so nice that you want to make them all your new best friends, a Zen-like feeling of calm and tranquillity, short queues and the brilliant ‘honesty’ self-scanner system — whereby you can scan and pre-pack all your own shopping because Waitrose customers aren’t the sort to try to nick a packet of Hobnobs.
The Bad: Expensive. Poor selection of frozen goods and the sense of shame you feel if you buy anything that’s not organic, fair trade or free from chemical additives.
Typical Basket: Olive oil infused with something or other, Covent Garden Soup, hummus, buffalo mozzarella, Duchy Original milk, Rachel’s yoghurt and a misshapen loaf of bread that weighs more than you do.
Who Shops There? Masterchef wannabes; young, hip professionals; stay-at-home mums; and bachelors buying microwave meals just five minutes before closing time.
The Sainsbury's Experience: Feel like you’re a cut above Tesco, yet still a bit intimidated by Waitrose? Then Sainsbury’s is the store for you.
Thanks to a highly successful 11-year endorsement by Jamie Oliver, it’s the supermarket for amateur chefs who’ve had their eyes opened to a brave new world of pan-frying, blanching and searing.
There’s plenty of goat’s cheese and weirdly shaped mushrooms for those who want them, but shops also stock a reassuring amount of snacks, ready-meals and household staples.
The Good: Wide variety of food, often sourced locally. The Fair Trade crowd are catered for, but nor are those who fancy a supper of Ritz Crackers and Dairylea made to feel unwelcome either.
The Bad: The Nectar Card. The ‘loyalty’ system that generously gives you £2.50 off your shopping for every £1 million you spend (or so it seems). Having to ‘rent’ a trolley for £1. Check-out staff trained in the art of tedious small-talk and who guard their free plastic bags like the crown jewels. Hands-down the worst self-service tills on the High Street.
Typical Basket: Tuna steaks, fresh herbs, a Taste The Difference lasagne, Kettle Crisps, Ben & Jerry’s ice cream and a bottle of Oyster Bay Sauvignon Blanc.
Who Shops There? Just about everyone at one time or another, but mainly parents on a budget, the elderly, those doing the ‘big’ weekend shop, and students.
The Tesco Experience: It may offer everything from funeral arranging to pet insurance, but the supermarket is particularly good for harassed mums trying to buy enough shopping for kids’ lunch boxes in order to cash in their Club Card points for a trip to Alton Towers.
They never seem to twig that if they just paid for tickets to Alton Towers, it would be a hell of a lot cheaper than the 12,000 tins of baked beans and 4,000 bags of crisps they’ve bought in the past year.
The snootier middle classes would rather get in their cars and drive to the nearest Sainsbury’s or Waitrose, leaving the car-less and less pretentious to snap up Tesco’s endless range of BOGOF offers.
The Good: Competitive pricing, helpful staff, and they don’t look at you like you’ve just kicked a guide dog when you confess that you haven’t brought your own bags.
The Bad: Crowded, long check-out queues, and — despite their ‘Finest’ range — the selections are pretty bog standard and uninspiring. They also like to keep customers on their toes by all-too-often relocating the food.
Typical Basket: Multi-buy tubes of Pringles, a JLS CD, chicken kiev, dried pasta and Dolmio sauce, instant sachet cappuccinos and a selection pack of Krispy Kreme doughnuts.
Who Shops There? Budget-conscious old folk in comfy slacks and sandals, bravely jostling for space alongside young mums with six unruly children in tow wearing more hair scrunchies and leisure suits than you can shake a stick at.
Shop there and you’ll notice that as far as the younger Asda shoppers are concerned, Satay and Coulis are nice names to call twins.
The Asda Experience: As well as the usual staples, Asda is the supermarket that gladly caters for the less sophisticated palate — where you can still buy cheese that you squeeze from a tube, fruit yoghurts the colour of highlighter pens, and pickled onions that haven’t been rebranded as ‘cocktail onions’.
The Good: Cheap, unchallenging and an adventure playground for anyone who wants to lose themselves in a world of E numbers rather than live a virtuous life on organic, eco, Fair Trade.
But best of all is Asda FM — their in-store radio station— where you can bop to Abba and Brotherhood Of Man while filling your trolley with delicious junk food and not feel a twinge of shame.
The Bad: Let’s be honest, it’s some of the customers. Trolley rage is rife, as the younger clientele treat the aisles like an indoor karting track.
Out in the car park, competition for the spaces nearest the doors is fiercer than an EasyJet boarding queue.
Typical Basket: Panda pop, Findus Crispy Pancakes, Turkey Twizzlers, Take A Break Magazine, Vienetta ice cream and a bottle of Malibu.
Who Shops There? Mostly based in the North of England, this chain is particularly frequented by working families, young people who actually believe Denise Van Outen and Richard Hammond do shop there, and grannies with an armful of 20p-off vouchers.
The Morrisons Experience: Unlike the TV ad, the customers really don’t want to know the exact route the sardine took before it ended up on the fish counter: they just want to know at what time in the afternoon it will be marked down in price.
Shoppers tend to be old-fashioned traditionalists who have set dinners on certain days of the week, love a Sunday roast, and believe there’s nothing that you can’t serve with gravy. They think Heston Blumenthal is bonkers and that anything char-grilled or sun-dried is poncey Southern nonsense.
The Good: Refreshingly old-fashioned, and just about the only supermarket that restricts itself to groceries and household goods and isn’t hellbent on trying to sell you an ironing board, a pair of pyjamas and a flat-screen TV when you do your weekly shop.
The Bad: All a bit basic and no-frills. Sometimes you want to be spoilt for choice, with marrows or chorizo sausages — even if you wouldn’t have the first clue what to do with them.
Typical Basket: Aunt Bessie’s Yorkshire puddings, Cathedral Cheddar, Blueband margarine, tinned peaches, Carnation milk, sponge fingers and kitty litter.
LIDL AND ALDI
Who Shops There? Foreigners living in the UK, and middle-class women who love a spot of competitive frugality and think it’s a jolly wheeze to go there, so they can brag about it at Pilates.
The Lidl/Aldi Experience: Remember when you used to go on holiday to France or Spain as a child and visit the local supermarket, when you’d pick up a box covered in foreign writing and you weren’t sure whether it contained cornflakes or soap powder?
Well now, thanks to Aldi and Lidl, you can have that experience every day on the UK High Street.
The food is stacked high and the staff are pretty thin on the ground. The store layouts seem to defy all logic. You’ll find the pasta nestling besides the goldfish food, and the digestive biscuits next to the pickles.
The Good: Lidl and Aldi shoppers rave about the meat and fish selections. Prices are as low as you can get, and nobody tries to flog you bags for life or hassles you about collecting school vouchers at the check-out.
The Bad: Chaotic, dusty and there is something disconcerting about not having heard of any of the brand names. Solevita orange juice anybody? How about Sunnyglade Baked Beans or Parkside Digestives?
Typical Basket: A selection of cold meats, olives in a plastic vacuum pack, the world’s smelliest cheese, and catering-size jars of pickles with pictures of people in lederhosen on them.
MARKS & SPENCER
Who Shops There? People who love good food but are too lazy to make it themselves. They justify the expense by saying: ‘Well, it’s cheaper than a restaurant.’
Shirley Conran once famously said that life’s too short to stuff a mushroom — and for the M&S shopper it’s also too short to peel a potato, chop a lettuce or squeeze an orange, let alone cook an entire meal from scratch.
The M&S Experience: Like dying and going to ready-meal heaven. They may lure you in with their ‘three courses for £10’ offer, but they know there’s no question you’ll get out of there without spending less than £30.
M&S food has a hypnotic quality that convinces you that your life won’t be worth living unless you buy the ready-dressed lobster and the chocolate melting middle puddings, even though you only went in for a pint of milk and a jar of coffee.
The Good: Amazing quality, impressive gourmet selection and (unlike food from other supermarkets) the cooked article even bears a passing resemblance to the picture on the packet.
The Bad: The food is expensive. If you over-buy, you’ll end up feeling so guilty you’ll eat seven meals in one day. Thanks to Marks, a whole nation will grow up not knowing how to peel a sprout or cut up a melon.
Typical Basket: BLT sandwich, a tub of chocolate cornflake cakes, corn chips, selection of dips, a Gastropub Steak & Ale Pie for two (that you’re going to eat yourself), a profiterole pyramid, a bottle of Prosecco and a packet of Percy Pigs.