Discount supermarkets are attracting more andm ore afﬂuent customers. Claire Smith looks at our changing shopping habits as the recession hits and asks shoppers what they think
THE RECESSION has made us a nation of bargain hunters – and searching for offers at discount supermarkets has become a hobby for the squeezed middle classes.
German-owned Aldi and Lidl are gaining ground as consumers increasingly shop around rather than always going to the same supermarket for their weekly shop.
Now the discount supermarkets are determined to woo their new affluent customers – offering prime cuts of meat, upmarket ready meals and wines, including Champagne and Châteauneuf-du-Pape, as a way of building brand loyalty in middle- class customers.
Aldi has recently launched a Specially Selected range of meats, including rump steak, while Lidl is adding bakeries to its stores in an attempt to move away from its rough-and-ready image.
As profits for Tesco fell 11.6 per cent in the first six months, Aldi, in particular, is gaining ground with UK profits rising in 2011 to £57.8m.
The company is to open 40 new stores by the end of 2013 creating 4,500 jobs which will take its total number of UK shops past 500.
Lidl – also benefiting from changing spending habits due to the recession – is about to launch a range of luxury ready meals and will be recruiting 300 new staff in Scotland for its in-store bakeries which will see freshly baked bread and cakes available in every one of its shops.
Retail analysts say the squeezed middle classes have been drawn to the German-owned discount supermarkets as a way to weather the recession – and that the promotion of fresh locally produced food and the introduction of high-end products is a way to encourage them to stay loyal.
Tiring of loyalty schemes, consumers are increasingly ready to shop around to make their money go further. Rather than doing all their shopping at Tesco, Sainsbury, Marks & Spencer and Waitrose, shoppers are increasingly likely to compare deals.
The discount supermarkets have now begun to target middle-class customers with specially selected gourmet products – at bargain-basement prices.
Among the posh products now on sale at Aldi are Champagne Philizot at £12.99 a bottle and specially selected Parmigianno Reggiano at £2.85.
Meanwhile, Lidl has launched a new wine range designed to appeal to affluent customers, which includes a Prosecco Spumanti di Conegilano and a Chablis AOC Premier Cru.
Searching for non-food bargains at Lidl and Aldi has become a talked-about recreational activity among the middle classes.
Both discount supermarkets have a shifting selection of non-food items, which change twice a week and which can include special offers on things as diverse as televisions, slippers, equestrian equipment, Scuba gear and cement mixers. Weekly mailings alert shoppers to the range of goods currently on offer.
A spokeswoman for Lidl saiys: “We have also perceived a marked shift in our customer base with an increase in shoppers from higher income backgrounds shopping at Lidl, so much so that this trend provided the impetus behind our recent premium ‘Wine Cellar’ launch. We believe in offering affordable luxury to everyone, and this Wine Cellar is a true extension of that because it offers people the opportunity to enjoy really good wines, such as Châteauneuf du Pape and Sancerre, at prices that are affordable. There is a particular demand for this at the moment because, since the recession hit, even those from more affluent backgrounds are finding smart ways to continue enjoying fine wines and good food at home.
“We have had a tremendous increase in numbers of people coming through our doors recently, which shows that our regular customer base is staying loyal to us and that word of mouth has spread to new customers. Through our recent fresh meat and poultry campaign, we have been able to communicate that our fresh offering is of an extremely high quality. This has been an added draw for people looking to take advantage of picking up fresh, quality products at low prices – as well as many of the well-known award winners from our existing range.”
Both Lidl and Aldi have responded to increased demand for locally sourced meat and vegetables and their Scottish stores – which are festooned with products marked with saltires, showing locally sourced goods. It is a far cry from the early days when both retailers were notable for stocking obscure tinned foods with incomprehensible foreign labels. Richard Holloway, Scottish Managing Director at Aldi, says: “We believe that Aldi’s commitment to Scottish produce, and the combination of great prices and high quality produce, is driving more and more shoppers to our stores. We work hard to source high quality produce for our customers and we believe that more and more people, from all backgrounds, are realising Aldi offers great tasting, quality products at low and competitive prices.
“We stock more than 200 Scottish products, and work with over 60 independent food and drink businesses to offer shoppers a product range which is at least 25 per cent Scottish. As a result, our 44 Scottish stores stock some of the finest and best value locally sourced food and drink, which means that picking up a bargain and supporting local producers is easier than ever.”
James Halliwell of The Grocer says: “They are ringing the changes a lot in the last two years with a greater emphasis on fresh food and a much greater emphasis on promoting British products.”
He believes the new popularity of the discount supermarkets it partly because the recession is encouraging the middle classes to shop around, but also because they have made a concerted effort to be more attractive to affluent shoppers.
“It is a bit of both. The state of the economy has pushed a lot of shoppers to search for ways to reduce their household bills and at the same time the discount supermarkets have been making an effort to offer something more like a standard British supermarket. That is why you have seen the leap in pre-tax profits.”
At Aldi in Haddington, Fiona Sampson says the reputation of the discount supermarket is definitely changing. “I think at first it put people off. They didn’t want to be seen in here. I know some people didn’t want to be seen in the store and I just think, ‘Why be like that?’”
Renata McGowan, originally from Germany but now living in Gullane says: “There is a prejudice in Germany too that Aldi is not posh enough for some people. But I think people are starting to look around more rather than going into the same supermarket all the time.
LIZ MACCOLL, HADDINGTON
Retired home economics teacher Liz MacColl had just returned from Chicago, where she had been to watch the Ryder Cup. We caught up with her in the Haddington branch of Aldi, where she was stocking up with salads, vegetables, prawns and store-cupboard ingredients.
“THEY are very good at Aldi and they have got more and more Scottish products in store. Coming from a farming background, it is great to see them supporting Scottish products and Scottish farmers.”
She shakes her head when she’s asked if she comes here because it is cheap. “Cheap is not the word for it. It is value for money.” However, she does think the supermarket is upping its game.
“I have been coming here for a few years now and their stuff has always been good – but it is getting better and it is getting more and more Scottish. If they are taking the trouble to seek out local suppliers and work with them, then I think we should all do our bit and support them as well.”
In terms of style she believes the discount supermarkets have spruced up their image. “When they first opened they used to have boxes everywhere. But they have smartened up a bit since then. Also the turnover is high so the stuff is very fresh.” She says the quality of the products and the shopping experience is bringing her to Aldi more and more. “I am coming more often now. I do a lot of stuff for charity – making jam and cakes – and when I’m doing that this is the best place to come for baking ingredients. It is definitely cheaper and I can find everything I need here.”
ROBERTA MCMENEMY, PORT SETON
Computer systems trainer Roberta McMenemy works near to the Musselburgh Lidl and shops there two or three times a week.
“I THINK because of the recession a lot more people are starting to shop in discount supermarkets. And Lidl and Aldi are getting good names for themselves because of the sort of things they sell.” She says she comes to Lidl because of both quality and price. “I think the choice is good and the price is good.” She also likes to come by the Musselburgh store on a Thursday and a Monday to see what kind of special offers are in store. “They have different things all the time which come in twice a week. My husband bought a chainsaw and a drill set. They quite often have things to do with DIY.”
While some people are put off by some of the more unusual European foodstuffs on offer, McMenemy likes browsing the deli section for new things to try. “There are unusual foodstuffs here which I like. Their cold meats are very good.” Although she has never shied away from discount supermarkets herself, she feels there are still people prejudiced against them. “I always came in to have a look, but I didn’t come in regularly until my husband was made redundant two years ago. “You get people coming in here with Tesco bags. They come out with their stuff in Tesco bags so it looks as if they been shopping in Tesco – I’ve seen it happening.”
But she is not loyal to one particular retailer. “I shop in Tesco and I also shop online.
But if I need something quick I come in here.”
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