The great middle class shift to Aldi will end food snobbery

IT’S really time to reassess your priorities when the thought of being sprung anywhere but Waitrose is enough to have you shunned from your usual social circles.

Aldi arrived in the UK in 1990 and Lidl appeared in 1994, yet even as recently as 2014 it was being treated as a curiosity rather than a bona fide location to do your weekly shop.

That is, for certain sections of society. For some folk it was merely their local supermarket, for others it was a foible of the middle classes, a bit of a naughty secret among friends.

It looks like posh shoppers are going to have to look again at their attitudes for the economy’s loss is Aldi’s gain.

The supermarket has announced that customers are coming to them in “droves” looking for cut price deals to see them through the cost of living crisis.

Its chief executive said the chain has enticed more than 1.5 million additional shoppers in 12 weeks – an increase of 19 per cent – thanks to an “unprecedented” change in consumer behaviour, the most dramatic since the last recession of 2008.

Low price Lidl is also scooping up worried consumers from Tesco, Asda and Morrisons as shoppers “prioritise value”.

In response, the BBC reports, the established supermarkets have made their value ranges more competitive. The new Asda basics range, Just Essentials, was so popular the supermarket had to put a temporary cap on the number of items shoppers could buy in order to keep up with demand.

Asda’s rebranding of its own brand items caused some light pearl clutching when it was first unveiled. It comes in bright yellow packaging, which commentators feared would stand out alarmingly in trolleys and baskets, alerting those nearby that here was someone who couldn’t afford branded items.

Now, as the majority are cutting their cloth in a cost of living crisis, it’s surely, finally the time to address this weird food snobbery.

For a long time Aldi and Lidl crept along quietly, doing what they do – purveying their vittles.

Then came a particularly snobbish phase, coinciding with the 2008 financial crash, of newspapers sending restaurant critics and gourmands-about-town to sample the wares and see how they compared to mainstream supermarket brands.

These usually expressed shock and awe that any of the food was in any way acceptable.

Rarely was the result that the Lidl foodstuff was better than the full price supermarket version – let’s not get carried away with ourselves – but it was often found to be surprisingly good, the writer taken aback at the quality of something that didn’t come from Waitrose.

Maidstone mums

A favourite of this genre was wine and from thence sprung a glut of stories about middle class shoppers buying the bulk of their foodstuffs in their usual supermarket but skulking off to Aldi for cut-price Champagne.

In 2014 there was a marked increase in ABC1 shoppers heading to Aldi and Lidl, a trend dubbed the “Maidstone mums”. Women from whom it would, apparently, have been the aforementioned social suicide to be seen doing your big shop outwith Waitrose.

What hard lives, to be so concerned by appearance, to be fearful of shunning for buying a cheaper brie.

As sarcasm is the lowest form of wit, food snobbery is the lowest form of pretension. It’s how we’ve ended up with internet-famous self-described food experts who scaremonger about carrageenan and make up nonsense about rapeseed oil.

Perfectly safe and unalarming foodstuffs are all slowly poisoning us, if you listen to them. And people are willing to listen thanks to an obsession with clean eating and wellness.

We think of this as a modern phenomenon but the only modern part of it is how extreme it’s become. A New York Times article talks of premium prices being paid for farm fresh milk in glass bottles and grass-fed beef raised on chemical-free grazing land.

“Today, such so-called ”pure” foods, victims of advanced agricultural technology, are so scarce they command premium prices,” it reads. “Once eaten by rich and poor alike, simple, unadulterated foods have become status symbols, affordable only by the affluent.”

That could have been written yesterday but its premise – that housewives are doing all the shopping – reveals the fact it’s from 1986.

Elites have always taken steps to distinguish themselves from the masses and food is one easy way to signal class and status. From the days of spices being exotic, rare and expensive signifiers of social rank to water lily seeds and kombucha today, the upwardly mobile want to be seen to be eating the “right” things.

A forced shift to Aldi could be just what we need to finally democratise food – or at least attitudes towards it.

Read more by Catriona Stewart:

Meghan Markle or the Little Mermaid – why the hate for Black princesses

Why did mourners wait so long to see the Queen’s coffin?

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