Spurned by the Supermarket Gods

by Ranim Elborai

I love our new neighbourhood out near London Bridge: we occupy a very nice loft-esque apartment in a converted factory, gritty Tower Bridge and its environs harbour our decidedly bourgeois apartment complex, and chic Bermondsey Street with its restaurants, flower shops and quaint boutiques (purveyors of only the most useless items) is just a minute’s walk away.

This zip code is miles and leagues better than the old one.

There’s just one aspect of life wherein our new locale falls flat…


Our last place, which occupied a nebulous and unidentifiable space between Bayswater and Notting Hill, was within a five minute walk of two decently equipped ethnic bodegas/halal butcher shops, and a seven minute walk of a wonderful Waitrose. Never mind that I was unable to find a characterful independent coffee shop to patronise in the mornings — we were on the doorstep of Britain’s best supermarket!

I doubt my readers abroad know or care very much about the UK’s supermarket hierarchy, so I shall paint a quick sketch which may or may not be very accurate. The aforementioned Waitrose (to whose clientele David Cameron “sucked up” in an embarrassing bit of elitist grab-assery earlier this April) occupies the top tier, with Marks & Spencer’s Simply Food following closely behind.a

Sainsbury’s comes thereafter, a respectably middle class supermarket I suppose, flanked by Tesco, Morrisons and ASDA in terms of prices.

At your bottom end you’ve got Iceland, which if I’m not mistaken seems to only sell tinned or frozen goods; LiDL and Aldi, which are both German operations that take a very no-frills approach to retailing and offer great bargains. We will not speak of Whole Foods since it hasn’t permeated the British supermarket market yet and is more of a novelty at this point.

So now what have I got?

Oh! How the supermarket mighty have fallen! I have a junky little Tesco Express just around the corner, which would seem like it would be convenient, except that it isn’t. Every time I buy a certain product from that blasted shop on two consecutive occasions, they pull it off the shelves. First it was The Great Bran Flakes Drought of last spring. I grudgingly made a switch to Weetabix, but then immediately the Weetabix supply dried up. They never have smooth peanut butter down there, only crunchy. No offense to anyone, but fuck crunchy peanut butter. And to round out this experience of deprivation, it’s only right that the one yogurt that I really like happens to be the only one they don’t stock in their unnecessarily wide yogurt selection.

I have a very large, well stocked “ethnic” grocer/halal butcher in the area — a harrowing 25 minute walk away. All right, perhaps they’re closer than that — 23 minutes. Still, that’s a hike. I can’t just say to myself, “Why, old girl,  it would be grand to have some lamb chops this evening, let me hop down to the butcher’s and pick up a dozen.” I have to have premeditated a lamb chop dinner quite far in advance. And who, please tell me who, is it exactly that goes and does a thing like that?

An 18 minute walk away a rather massive, uncharacteristically classy flagship Tesco looms above a smaller M&S Simply Food store, so that’s pretty nice, except that it’s not very nice to carry really heavy grocery bags for that long of a period of time. Of the two, I tend to favour the big Tesco — a broader range of goods on offer with more choice, and they’ve got this partnership with Euphorium Bakery which provides it with loaves and loaves of the best rye bread I’ve tasted to date — a staple in my house.

To be honest, it was bread that kept me so attached to Waitrose to begin with — a bread by Duchy Originals that went by the name of Organic Wholemeal Seeded Bloomer. It is widely known that this bread is so wonderful to toast, that if I showed up a minute past 17:00, all the loaves would have already flown off the shelves and I’d have to settle for the non-wholemeal bloomer or some inferior brand of bread.

I’m like this in Amman too — my family are obliged to shop at one particular supermarket because I particularly like their bread. In fact, I need their bread. Woe betide my parents should we ever run out of this bread, for breakfast would be most unpleasant indeed.b

So you can imagine my upset this morning, when I awoke bright and early to receive an Ocado delivery (like FreshDirect or any other online grocery delivery service) from Waitrose, eagerly awaiting my 2 bloomers, to receive a text message informing me that, in fact, my bloomers wouldn’t be making it along with everything else.

Clearly the supermarket gods have spurned me.

  1. Yes, I’m aware that M&S’s goods are quite expensive and of good quality, but by limiting their offerings to their own brand exclusively they limit their consumers’ options and that demotes them a notch in my book.  (back)
  2. If you’re wondering, that supermarket is Cozmo and the bread in question is their wholemeal tabooneh bread. It is the bomb.  (back)