Monday, October 6, 2014

Too Many Choices

Buy your bread already toasted in Italy

 ". . . if you haven't been in a grocery
store in a really long time, it's really
easy to get very out of touch."
~ Zooey Deschanel

I went grocery shopping this afternoon for the first time since I've been home.  Oh, I ran into the grocery to buy produce the other day, but today I had to shop-shop. After two months of shopping in Italian groceries, I meandered through Smith's.

The "regular" soup aisle at Smith's
Don't get me wrong.  There are good groceries in Europe, and some of them can be quite large.  The groceries within walking distance of my flat—Pam, Ccop, and Conad—were not large, but they had what I needed. What I found interesting about European groceries was the fact that they didn't offer quite as many choices as American groceries. For example, if I want to buy hotdogs here, I have probably five or six different brands from which to choose. In Italy, if I found hotdogs in a store, there would be only one brand or kind.

One afternoon, I really wanted soup, so I headed to Coop to see what kind they had. There were two different types of soup—minestrone, and mixed bean soup. I went to Pam to see what they had, and they had exactly the same two Knorr canned soups: minestrone and mixed bean soup. It was the same in each of the stores I frequented.  It was a good thing I liked minestrone.

 Today, I had a coupon for Progresso soup, and while I usually make my own soup, I figured I buy the two required cans to have on hand in case we needed something quick.  Let's just say that Smith's stocks more than just minestrone and mixed bean soup (Photos above and below). I ended up not getting any soup because there were so many that I couldn't focus.

Soup aisle in the "organic" section at Smith's
It was the same with most of the aisles. How about potato chips?  Taking the brands out of the equation, we have regular, rippled, baked, kettle-cooked, no-salt, and low-fat. Consider the different flavors, too. Have you had the salt and pepper, vinegar, dill pickle, barbecue, cheese, ranch, chili limon, tomato basil, sour cream and onion, jalapeño?  How about the new flavors Lay's is testing: bacon mac & cheese, ginger wasabi, mango salsa, and cappuccino (Below). No offense, but cappuccino chips?

That's not to say that the European groceries didn't have a number of choices for certain products.  If I wanted prosciutto, I had to choose between six or seven kinds.  If I wanted hamburger, they had one kind.  If I wanted Nutella, I had about six or seven different brands per store.  Peanut butter? If the store stocked it, there was one kind only. Toast? (In Italy, you can buy packages of "toasted bread." See photo at top of the post.) There are a bunch of different kinds of that. And there is no shortage of chocolate.  Even the smallest stores had numerous brands and kinds of chocolate.

"It's no wonder Michael Frank was so taken with Albertson's," I said to Mike. Michael was our German exchange student in the 90s. From a town of fewer than 5000 residents, he was always amazed at the size of things in the States. I didn't understand at that time.  I do now.

Michael, by the way, was the one who told me about Nutella.  He was upset because a store as big as Albertson's didn't sell Nutella.  It had not, at that time, made its way to too many US stores.  I had my first taste of it a few years later, and I've been hooked since. As Nutella has grown in popularity in the states, most groceries now stock Nutella and Nutella knock-offs. Smith's has a full shelf devoted to the stuff.

I did not have a hard time focusing on what I wanted in that aisle.

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