Supermarket fascination #2

As a European who has been around Asia a bit and lived in the UK, I thought I had seen a lot different of supermarket styles and weird local products. Until I got to the US a few months ago.

As I was saying in a post last year, I am a bit of a supermarket fan, probably because of my marketing background and interest in retail and food. This is the Chicago sequel to my last year post.

On my first day there, my friend took me to her local favourite in the Old Town: Plum

What an amazing first impression! Firstly, heaps and heaps of fresh and gorgeous fruits and vegetables attack your senses as you step in.


I had a particular crush on the tomatoes as you can tell.


Then you start getting a bit sceptical when you realised that a regular supermarket is equipped with THAT many protein powders and food supplements. But then again, it’s the US: make these muscles big!


And then, as you are almost out, by the check-out counter, there is a last surprise for you: bacon-flavoured chocolate. My Belgian heart had a twinge…


In fact, Plum was a bit of a paradise, especially if you compare it with the gas station stores on the highway.

There, the snack/healthy food ratio is probably 1000/1.


Not to worry, though: you will find a giant version of what Belgians know as “Bifi”, or these dry, skinny, pre-packed snack sausages. Heaven you say? Ermmmm, yes, ok. I still had none of these snacks (or suspicious oranges, for that matter, and battled with the coffee machine for 15 minutes instead).



Last but not least, I was taken to another supermarket heaven in downtown Chicago: Mariano’s

Pure bliss again this time: A 50 metre-long buffet of fresh or warm salads, meals, meats and: anything you could wish for for your take-away lunch  (which is what we did), tons of fresh fruit and veg, and these mouth watering popcorn (Chicago specialty) and cakes.

I do envy my friend Camille who works around the corner! No university restaurant ever looked like that!



I think I missed out on quite a lot and will have to go back to check out Trader’s Joe, Costco or Wal-Mart.

Next time, for sure!

Supermarket fascination

I can no longer hide from it: I love supermarkets. They can be big or small (although, the bigger, the more fascinating), specialised or mainstream, busy or quiet, located in any country or continent…I love them all. I happily go around a supermarket ten times, pass the same section over and over again, and, in the end, spend 30 minutes to buy 5 items.

I think my obsession has become more prominent since I moved in the UK, where retail stores are very well implanted and have developed really strong brands. Whether they like supermarkets or not, UK citizens cannot deny that Tesco, Sainsbury’s or Morisson have become real institutions. They are  on every street corner, offer a large range of services, and have very strong own labels. A recent study on brand love and hate in the UK shows that top retailers are all highly ranked in the top 50 of most loved brands. That’s food for thought.

What I enjoy most, is going to different supermarkets around the world and discovering the products that locals go crazy for. The size of the section dedicated to certain products is certainly indicative of local food preferences. Among my favourites.

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  • Olive oil and pasta in Italy (spotted this summer at my local holiday Bennet near Venice)
  • Cheese and “Hageslag” in The Netherlands (They are chocolaty granules and a true winner from my latest trip at an Albert Heijn; so random!)
  • Soy sauce in Asia (Oh the memories of living on top of an E-Mart!)
  • Baked beans and tea in the UK (Tesco…my midnight shopping love)
  • And then I guess Belgium would be big for its chocolate and beer sections? Let’s go for this…I’m sure Delhaize would support this claim.

Of course this all sounds very simplistic and stereotypical, … and it is in a way, because not all UK citizens are heavy bean eaters or all Italians swimming in seas of olive oil at every meal –Thank God.

However, I cannot help but be amazed by the selection of products in supermarkets, the way they are promoted and displayed, and how shops are indicative of the local culture.

Hopefully this slightly deranged view from a marketing geek reconciles you a bit with the much dreaded weekly trip to the store. I would love to know what products overload stores in your country, please share and enjoy your next grocery shopping trip!