nd that’s two of the things I miss most about Ireland…a thick slab of butter on brown bread and a drinking a shot of Redbreast 15 year old sitting on a stool in the pub. For the life of me, I can’t figure out why Irish dairy tastes so good. Paddy, our bus driver, said it was the sweet Irish grass. The butter is the butteriest I’ve ever tasted and the yogurt is smooth and creamy with a subtle flavor that had me sneaking cartons from the breakfast table into my backpack for an afternoon snack.
Oh, and the ice cream…I can’t find the words to describe the rich eggy-vanilla custard that was the soft-serve treat. A thousand yums.
As for the whisky, I’ve never been a fan until I sampled the Redbreast. With a smooth, dark, rich flavor, this is a perfect ending to any meal. Our little group did several tastings during our pub crawl with Yellow Spot and Connemara as close runners up. A taste of a fine Irish whisky is an experience to be savored as the wee bit of fire rolls down your gullet warming your belly and then your nose as you exhale. Good memories.
So, back to the market discussion. The last post was all about the country market I visited. This time, I want to talk about my experience shopping in a more American style super market. It should be no surprise for me to tell you how much I love going to grocery stores. I went into a grocery store in Progreso, Mexico and spent an hour wandering up and down the aisles, sniffing things and trying to read labels. In Dingle, County Kerry, I walked into a SuperValu which is a small grocery chain that is found only in Ireland. The stores are large, clean, well lit, and well stocked. Shoppers walk in the store and the first thing they see is a wall of hand-made breads, pastries, and baked goods. Next is fresh produce, ready-made foods to take home or eat in the restaurant cafe, fresh meats, and seafood. Dry goods, paper goods, dairy, frozen foods, and a liquor store round out the products.
Much of the produce is from local farms, prices are fair, and the employees are friendly and helpful. SuperValu provides a needed, “locally” owned one-stop grocery option and seems to get along with the small, specialty food shop owners in the neighborhood. I wanted to put everything in my basket but, following my mantra of “get what I can’t get at home” settled on a custard tart, a beef and potato pie, a can of grilled steak flavored Pringles (we so need these in the US), and a bag of toffees. Bonus score was a red and brown burlap shopping bag with the store logo on the front. Larger groceries like this are needed to support communities financially and to give shoppers the option of purchasing everything they need in one stop. Mind, this is not a mega store, shoppers won’t find clothing, auto parts, or hardware here.
Meet Nora. I’m sorry I don’t have a picture of her but she wouldn’t consent. Here is her shop, Murphy Grocers in Kinsale, County Cork on Pearse Street not far from the marina. I gave her my card with this website address, told her about my graduate study, and promised not to post anything on Facebook, but still she said no. Mores the pity, she was delightfully opinionated. We talked for about thirty minutes about markets and the changes that have come, forcing many small grocers out of business.
She told me so many had closed and she feared that, in the not too distant future, the rest would be gone. When I asked her what happened to the old shops she was quick to answer: big box supermarkets had moved in and were killing locally owned food shops in small towns. She was quick to name Lidl and Aldi as the offenders. They buy in huge quantity and sell at deeply discounted prices. Small shop owners can’t compete with this kind of bulk buying and many consumers go for the low prices even if it means giving up better quality. Nora said they were moving in to small towns all over Ireland and seemed to be searching out markets with no other traditional grocery stores.
I had heard of Lidl from Michael Gannon but was surprised to hear about Aldi. I know that Aldi is an international chain but only thought of it as a small, bag your own items, discount grocery with limited choices available. I saw a large Aldi store near the city center in Donegal and regret not going in to take a look around. Many of the US stores have recently undergone remodels. The prices are unbelievably low especially on staple items, canned goods, and dairy. I must admit to being an Aldi shopper and am feeling some guilt whenever I shop there now. After meeting Nora, I feel like I should refuse to spend my food dollars there, as I do Walmart, because of their predatory tactics. I hope Murphy’s Grocers makes it. I didn’t ask how long they had been doing business but I would imagine it’s been a while, and Nora is a gem. In the few minutes we talked she paused several times to greet well known shoppers as they walked down the sidewalk. One older lady picked out a bagful of plums and asked Nora to hold them until she had finished her other
business in town. She didn’t want to lose out on the best plum pick and Nora accommodated her. Now I ask you, would a large chain store do that for a customer?
There was another small grocer next door to Murphy’s called The Market Garden and a large SuperValu at the far end of the shopping district. They all seem to work well together to provide service to customers. Nora said every town needs options and SuperValu is apparently willing to work alongside smaller vendors rather than try to drive them out of business. I enjoyed my time talking with Nora, another city center vendor with experience and knowledge caring for her customers. My take away from this is that communities who partner with businesses for common goals create more success and happier citizens. I do wonder sometimes why this is such a difficult concept for urban planners to master.