And other supermarkets…
“I never make a trip to the United States without visiting a supermarket. To me they are more fascinating than any fashion salon” Wallis Simpson
Well, we’re not quite America that’s for sure! But the Algarve does have its fair share of shopping malls and big supermarkets – in fact I can think of the names of 12 different supermarkets out here without even blinking!
And everyone we speak to seems to have their favourite – and others that they just never visit, even if they are nearby. And of course, there’s now Iceland muscling in too, with a relatively new store open near Albufeira. So I had to decide that I is for Iceland (and other supermarkets!) in my A to Z of Portugal.
And a quick trawl on an expat forum will show you just how excited the expat community was when Iceland opened… suddenly you could buy ‘British’ food items like pork pies, ‘proper’ cheese, Branston pickle, Ginsters pasties and scotch eggs (you may detect a slight hint of amusement creeping into my typing at this point?!)
It’s an ‘interesting experience’ visiting the new Iceland store. For one thing, it’s like stepping back into Britain, as if you’d never been away. The staff all seem to be British and speak English to all the customers (I’m interested to know how that can happen with Portuguese employment and EU equality law?)
Many of the food items have British £ labels – which are then converted to Euros – so you have to check the small shelf labels carefully! All products priced £1 are 1.40€ – I was interested to find out why so I checked the Iceland ‘Overseas’ website which covers the company’s European stores (including quite a few in Spain) and the company states that “Overseas has made the decision to keep a standard pricing Policy with regards to Price Marked Products. If we worked off a standard Profit Margin then the prices would fluctuate across the range.”
Interestingly their maths includes the fact that they have forward purchased their currency months in advance – they are currently only getting €1.17 to the Pound – and as the going rate is now around €1.24 to the Pound…
I also did not realise that ‘Overseas Imports’ – or ‘Overseas’ is actually a Privately Owned Company with an Exclusive Sales Agreement with Iceland Frozen Foods Ltd – and that they have to pay the price set by their suppliers. They are actually “more often than not [selling] at very close to a loss in order to try and hold prices low.”
Overseas are paying between 85p and 95p for many of their £1.00 ‘flashed’ products – they then have to pay for transport, translation labels and IVA on top of this – so a £1.00 GBP product will actually cost them €1.39 – and with a Selling Price of €1.40 that’s not exactly a healthy profit margin! I’m sure Sir Alan Sugar would have something to say about that!
If the flurry of excitement on expat forums is anything to go by – I’m sure they have little to worry about! We have only been twice – and we did put a few items in a basket; but to be honest we wandered around feeling a bit bemused … do they really think all ‘expats’ or British holidaymakers [and let’s be honest here – that’s their target market] go round eating chocolate and crisps all day long? The aisles (plural!) full of unhealthy confectionary and ready meals is quite incredible.
Iceland also stock some Waitrose ‘basic’ products too – if anyone knows how that relationship started do let me know – they seem an unlikely combination – although Waitrose were rumoured to be interested in buying some Iceland stores in the UK last year (?)
It will remain to be seen whether the novelty value wears off – or whether their incredibly low profit margins stand up to the economic climate we are currently weathering.
One supermarket however that we do like is Continente – mainly because we can shop there during the day when it is quiet! It is certainly a different store in the evening and at weekends.
Our treat is to arrive and settle in for a quick ‘bica’ complete with ‘pastel de nata’ in their café – well it doesn’t seem right to miss them out – they only charge 85c for a coffee and pastry – and they are the nicest ones we have tasted this side of Faro!
The other thing we love them for is the incredibly generous offers they have in store – get yourself a Continente card – wait for the 75% discount offers to arrive – and stock up on the things you’d normally buy anyway – then watch the money arrive back on your card to spend again! You get 50% back about 2 weeks later – and then a further 25% about 3 weeks after that – we regularly end up with 50€ credit on our card to spend in store. Excellent!
They also have a petrol discount voucher – you get 5c (or sometimes 8c) per litre off your petrol – then you get another voucher to take back into the store to get the same money you have just saved on petrol back again… you can end up on one big shopping discount loop here!
We jump between Continente and Lidl’s quite happily – we shopped in Lidl’s in the UK – and found it extremely amusing to suddenly find out little local ‘secret’ store becoming more popular as more people discovered their low prices and quality products.
We also have friends who swear by Aldi – and don’t like Lidl’s – so it is definitely all down to taste and what is local to you… and Portugal also has its own equivalent ‘discount’ supermarket chain – Pingo Doce. They are now famous for recently deciding to run a last minute one-day offer of ‘spend over 100 Euros – and only pay 50% of your bill’ – it was absolute chaos – and also did not go down too well with the Portuguese public as they held it on ‘Labour Day’ – a national holiday, and traditionally a day when all supermarkets used to close to ensure staff had the day off.
We are also keen to shop ‘locally’ – at the corner shop, or the local market. Most towns and villages have a market – either daily or weekly – Loule has an amazing Saturday market:
You can make friends, check what you are buying, and support local businesses and buy fresh local produce that is actually in season. We even have our favourite orange and fruit supplier – a lovely Portuguese farmer in a tiny little local village, and we are always spoilt with the amount of oranges they put in our bag – and the care and attention they give you is something you will never find in a supermarket.
We even have a little fish van that comes round where we live at least twice a week, honking his little car horn to let you know he is coming!
Well you could shop in a different store every day for at least two weeks over here – it depends what you want! There are a number of French supermarkets over here, like Intermarché; and some that promote selling a lot of expat produce (like Baptista in Luz); and there is also Modelo – often now remodelled – and which is actually just part of the Continente-Modelo chain now – but it is still good for a bargain – especially if they still have their chain of clothes shops alongside – Modalfa.
There’s also Pão de Açúcar which was introduced in Portugal by the Brazilian Group whose name translates as ‘Sugar Loaf’; and is now a supermarket chain owned by the French group Auchan – who are also linked to the Jumbo supermarkets and Pingo Doce. I think this explains why when you get a load of supermarket advertising through the letterbox – and they all seem to be discounting the same products on the same week – well – they are!
There’s one thing they all have in common though – whichever supermarket you end up in – you’ll need a Euro coin for the trolley!
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