American supermarkets suck. But why? It is, after all, a nation that invented them. It is a society that embraces conspicuous consumption. Most of all it has whole States that do nothing but grow vegetables, raise cattle and produce dairy products. But somehow it just hasn’t come together.
When I first arrived in the USA, I have to confess that one of the things I was looking forward to most was grocery shopping. Now don’t get me wrong, if your hobby is food shopping, then you need to seriously re-evaluate your social life. But you see in Britain grocery shopping is a pleasant experience. The ambience, the produce, even the staff make it almost a day out. You feel better after you have been. But in America? Well, frankly I have enjoyed myself more in an Albanian bazaar. So just what is wrong with American supermarkets.
- The ugly Architecture Ok, so no one expects a supermarket to be designed like a baroque Florentine Basilica But American store designs are just so ugly. Hastily thrown up, low slung, with no empathy for their surroundings and featuring the worst external graphics since the London Olympics (what were we thinking). They look like Lego buildings. They are also ridiculously small and cramped which brings me to….
- Lack of space. For such a vast country Americans sure are frugal about real estate. They certainly don’t waste any on their shopping outlets. The aisles are so close together that if you get two carts going in opposite directions there follows a Spanish Paso Doble as each tries to dance past the other. People want to turn their cart in the aisle not have to push it to the end and then back it up like a forklift truck.
- The produce Without a doubt, this is the most significant disappointment of all. How is it I can get better oranges in Fulham than Florida? Wisconsin does nothing but harvest dairy foodstuffs, but most cheese here comes out of a can (YUK)!. The South has more varieties of nut growing in it than Equatorial Africa, but I could get them cheaper and easier by taking a cruise from Southampton to Charleston than buying them in Connecticut.
- Arrangement – Wandering around a British supermarket is a pleasure. It is arranged and structured so beautifully. It is food as theatre. American supermarkets may look orderly in the morning but come evening they have me looking around to see where the Kansas twister has struck. Incidentally, who on earth still uses price labels made from a star-shaped card? This is not even “mad men” ironic. It’s not 1974 people!
- The staff – The Brits look after their employees much better. I know Americans who work in superstores, and they all tell me the same thing. They work long hours for low pay in exhausting circumstances, and there are simply not enough of them. They also have to stand to serve were British colleagues sit. How medieval is that? No wonder my ubiquitous “have a nice day” comes at me through gritted teeth. Brits chat and talk to their server. Well, at least the ones not shoplifting do. I do not blame the people who work there, on the contrary, if ever there was an example of the need for unionised labour in the American workplace then supermarkets are it
- Cost – British dairy and meat products are all much cheaper. How can it be that a small island that has 17 cows in it can produce milk and beef cheaper than a country where cattle herds are so big they have their own zip code. British supermarkets also reduce fresh produce to about 10 percent of the cost price at the end of the day to avoid wasting it. I have NEVER seen American food reduced in price. My guess is they just bin the stuff they don’t sell. Something is going seriously wrong here.
- Taxes – If I buy something in England for £5 when I get to the till that is what they will charge me. I have been caught out on numerous occasions in New York when something marked as $10 gets additional state, county and even town taxes added to it at the till. I want to know what I am paying when I pick the product up and not have to use an algorithm. To think you rebelled against us over taxation. Oh, the irony.
- Dismal lighting – British stores are almost overlit. It’s like being at the Superbowl. In America the light is so dim I once went in to buy toothpaste and ended up with a tube of “Anusol”. To be fair, you get used to the taste after a week.
- The last laugh –”Tesco”, Britain’s biggest grocery chain tried to muscle in on the American market thinking they could smash “Hannafords”,” Costco”, “Trader Joes” and the like because of all of the above. The result? They were sent home squealing after losing millions because Americans just didn’t take to their style. Why? Well, I don’t know, but perhaps someone can explain it to me
- All lists always end at number ten.