I thought it was time I got my observations down about the differences between British and Canadian supermarkets, before I become so used to things as they are now, that I no longer remember what first jumped out at me.
I recall my first visit to a Canadian grocery store. K & I went to do some food shopping during the week we spent here together, looking for somewhere to live, back in July 2010. It was night-time when we left the hotel, and we drove to what is now my nearest local grocery store, Metro. My first impressions were good, it was like Waitrose back home, in its style and feel – smaller than the leading giants Tesco and Sainsbury’s, but tailored to a more exacting customer. Of course, as anywhere, this was reflected in the price. But we still shop there regularly, the quality of the fresh produce is high and when they have deals, they can be VERY good deals, with significant savings. That night, we spent some time browsing all the unfamiliar brands and packaging, before making a few purchases and heading back to the hotel.
Contrast that to my first visit to Wal-Mart, on my last evening in the country before flying home. As soon as I got in the door I HATED it. The aisles were narrow and you couldn’t concentrate on shopping without being distracted about blocking someone else’s path. The trolley’s (called shopping carts here) were not the four-wheel-drive luxury I had taken for granted back home! They were narrower (to fit in the aisles) and the back wheels were fixed, adding to my mounting frustration as I tried to manoeuvre out of people’s way! The store itself was like a huge warehouse, soulless and depressing, even down to the grey plastic carrier bags which split almost immediately, resulting in much double-bagging. I could feel the disapproval of the ice-caps and species-nearing-extinction as I packed.
Apart from the ubiquitous dry-cleaners, there was a McDonalds (no surprise), a hairdressers, a travel agents, photo-shop and various other little outlets I had no inclination to explore. I exited the store almost suicidal! Was it too late to stay in England? Funny the things that influence your decision-making… Perhaps it was my emotional state at the prospect of leaving Canada and my husband the following day, coupled with culture shock (my eyes welled with tears in the pasta aisle, much to K’s bewilderment!) but I found Wal-Mart a DISMAL place. I was much happier when, a couple of months later, my next-door neighbour took me to Real Canadian Superstore (yes…that IS what it’s called – I’m not having you on, I swear…) This was more like it! It was bright and welcoming (I can only say Wal-Mart must be lit by those long-life light-bulbs with their nasty, cold, semi-brightness – like a white cloth that’s been through the wash too many times and is no longer white but a greyer, indeterminate shade). The signs with their blue, red and yellow colour scheme were reminiscent of Tesco, and the wide aisles were more in keeping with what I was used to. Their clothing range, Joe Fresh, has recently launched its own stand-alone stores across Canada and the place didn’t have that “bottom-of-the-barrel” feel to it. Oh, and before I forget, I don’t know who is responsible for the choice of music they play in-store, but anywhere with Foo Fighters on the airwaves can’t be bad!
The differences I noticed between UK and Canadian supermarkets fall into two groups. The first is the language difference. Many of them are covered in an earlier post on this blog called English/Canuck Dictionary, things like Coriander/Cilantro, Porridge/Oatmeal and Crisps/Chips. But I discovered a new one just recently: what is known in Britain as Swede is called Rutabaga here… go figure! K reckons it sounds more like a country than a vegetable!
The second difference is about which products are the most popular here, Canadian best-sellers, if you will. I would love it if any Canadians with experience of British supermarkets could let me know what they noticed was popular in Britain. I can only comment on what I noticed here, it being unfamiliar to me and therefore notable.
- Canadians LOVE juice. Whether it’s fruit juice or fruit flavoured, they have whole aisles dedicated to the stuff. There is non-concentrate, with/without pulp, lower acid, vitamin-enriched and any fruit or vegetable it’s possible to extract juice from! And here’s a thought! Why not mash some clams into that….a la Clamato! Another thing that is very popular is frozen juice. You buy it in cardboard tubes with metal discs at either end, defrost and dilute with water to create fruit juice or punch.
- Canadians LOVE salad dressing, again, there’s shelf upon shelf of it – all different flavours. Unfortunately, most of them are made by Kraft who seem to be responsible for feeding Canada. In Britain, the Kraft label was associated with cheese slices – here, they make EVERYTHING, including the unofficial national dish, Kraft Dinners! To appear truly Canadian you must exhibit an unholy love of either Caesar or Ranch dressing – none of that Mediterranean, oil-based malarkey, you want something creamy and fattening to balance out all that healthy salad you have with your wings, ribs or T-bone!
- Soft drinks – and all their categories! Energy drinks are very popular here: Gatorade, Monster Energy, Rockstar, there are loads of different brands…. So are iced teas: Arizona, Liptons, Nestea, Snapple…. and don’t forget your mixers: Canada Dry (my favourite) and club soda. We have Kool-Aid, Root beer (tried it – wasn’t a hit at our house – got too much of a mouthwashy taste, a bit like watered down Dandelion & Burdock), but sadly for K, no Irn Bru!
Ice cream is also popular, with many different brands, but not all of them are proper ice-cream. Some are made with cheaper substitutes for cream like palm oil, because, for reasons I haven’t yet discovered, dairy is expensive here. Which brings me to another difference…
- The milk comes in bags! Everyone, and I mean everyone, has these little jugs that are just the right size to hold a milk bag with one corner snipped off to allow pouring. I buck the trend and use an old-fashioned ceramic milk jug – despite being laughed at!!! But that’s just me…
- Lastly, Canadians DON’T like aerosol deodorants. The stores stock loads of different roll-ons but only two brands of spray stuff. I have a feeling it’s out of some CFC averse, environmentally friendly sense of duty, that most Canadians chose to stand around in the mornings, arms upraised, while their roll-on dries. However, I can’t help thinking this is somewhat compromised by the gas-guzzling vehicles used to transport said roll-on from store to bathroom. Just a thought…