Every Lidl Helps!

Changing shopping habits, especially in a new country, can be a headache …

For more years than I care to remember, I have done the majority of my food shopping at Tesco. This goes back to my youth when I used to meet my Mum after school and help with the weekly shop. At that time, the store in question was called Victor Value, but this eventually metamorphosed into Tesco. Rather like soap powders, early shopping influences tend to stick, and I considered myself quite fortunate that there was a Tesco store within relatively easy reach, no matter where I was living in the UK. Like many people, I was somewhat influenced by their customer loyalty card, and in some respects this proved to be quite advantageous.

Anyone reading this who is familiar with Tesco will be well aware of the company’s recent fall from grace. In recent years, their prices have escalated at an alarming rate whilst quality has often deteriorated and they have taken their customers for granted. To make matters worse, their profits have nosedived amidst various senior management scandals. Some twelve months ago, I was sufficiently influenced by a friend’s positive reviews, to venture into a branch of Aldi, albeit with a degree of trepidation. After all, I was venturing into something of an unknown entity, and my early recollections of discount food chains were hardly glowing. Fortunately, my fears were totally unfounded and I was agreeably surprised at the quality of products purchased, not to mention the considerable saving I was making against Tesco prices. The only downside is that the likes of Aldi don’t carry the range and choice of the big players but the financial savings were too good to ignore.

As time went by, I made more regular visits to Aldi and far fewer to Tesco. The lower prices far exceeded the value of any loyalty points earned at Tesco. However, no sooner had I familiarised myself with the nearest Aldi store to my house. when I had to move out of my property as a buyer had been found. This was the start of my eventual move to Spain. In the interim, I was still needing to food shop in the UK but as there were no Aldi stores within a considerable radius, I ventured into Lidl. Once again, I was greeted with lower prices and good quality products, so further trips to Tesco or the other big supermarkets ceased. In fact, seeing as I would be leaving the country, I telephoned Tesco to close my loyalty scheme account and their total lack of customer care astounded me. Given that they were losing customers at an alarming rate, one would have thought they might enquire as to why I was deserting them, but this was not forthcoming.

Every Lidl Helps
Every Lidl Helps

Having familiarised myself with Lidl, the time came for me to make the move to Spain. This would likely mean having to explore local supermarkets in the area and carry out essential quality control on produce, a task that I did not relish. There are three Spanish supermarkets represented where I’m now living, namely the largest called Mercadona, Maxi Día, and the smaller Coviran. All offer a fair range of products and overall, food prices in Spain are lower than in the UK. However, there is another major player in the market … namely Lidl … and their standards are exactly the same as those in the UK. To make life even easier, all their stores appear to be laid out in a fairly standard format, so shopping in a Lidl here in Spain is much like doing so in the UK. Whilst Aldi do have a presence here, there are no branches within easy travelling distance.

So what is the attraction of these so-called discount food retailers? I have already mentioned the substantial savings that can be made on a relatively big shop. The long established big supermarkets in the UK are having a tough time. Sainsbury’s, who had their worst Christmas trading in a decade, is cutting 500 jobs. Tesco is cutting a massive 10,000 jobs, closing 43 stores, and has axed 49 new superstore openings. Morrisons is also struggling and has announced the closure of 10 loss-making stores and 400 redundancies. The reason for this is the heavy discounting they’re now having to make to try and compete with the likes of Lidl and Aldi, to whom customers have defected in droves. The lure of loyalty cards and their perceived ‘benefits’ no longer entice customers, and the ‘buy one get one free’ promotions have had their day. Many people simply don’t want two products for the price of one, but a fair price for a single item. Lidl and Aldi now account for 10% of Britain’s grocery sales, and show every sign of increasing this. You won’t find many special offers apart from weekly promotions, but value for money is unquestionable and customers feel as though they’re being treated honestly and with some respect.

The same approach applies to the Lidl stores in Spain … and that is a company with a huge presence across Europe so they must be doing something right. To paraphrase Tesco’s strapline, every Lidl helps!

Lidl Presence In Europe
Lidl Presence In Europe

New Beginnings

There comes a time in many people’s lives when lifestyle options need to be reviewed. This can be for any number of reasons including work, health, family, or simply to escape the everyday hustle and bustle.

For many years, I have had the desire to move away from my native country of the United Kingdom and explore new horizons. In fact, I nearly started a new life in France way back in 2004, but this failed to materialise as I was unable to sell my home at the time. Nevertheless, my aspirations for a move to France didn’t diminish and until 2012, my mind was focused on the Lot Valley area in the south west of the country. This part of France offers dramatic scenery, ancient history and warm summers but the downside is that the winter months can be almost as cold as parts of the UK.

With a longing for a warmer climate, my sights began to wander further south and for the last few years, Spain became the number one choice. There was still the problem of having to sell a property before being in a position to purchase another as I’m not one of the nouveau riche who can afford a second home! After a spell of ill health and diminishing work, I eventually found a buyer for my house in the UK and in the autumn of 2014 began an in-depth search for a property in sunny Spain. Prior to this, I had already decided upon the region of Andalusia in the south of the country. This was mainly because of the climate with its mild winters and hot summers. The autonomous region is the second largest in the whole of Spain and also the most populated. Historically, there has been high unemployment as the region relies heavily upon agriculture and tourism for inoome, but recently there has been growth in the industry and services sectors. Andalusia is divided into eight provinces, namely Almería, Cádiz, Córdoba, Granada, Huelva, Jaén, Málaga and Seville. Many cultural and Spanish customs originate in the region, and much of its architecture is influenced by the Moors.

After a couple of house-hunting trips to Spain, I finally decided upon a property which was within my budget. It is well reported that property prices throughout Spain reached an all-time low during 2013-14, especially in rural areas, so arguably it was a good time to buy. The reality, however, is that for a half-decent property, one has to fork out a fair amount of money and properties with pools command an average €30.000 premium. Whilst many will see a pool as very desirable, most are only used for about four months of the year. They are expensive to maintain and keep clean, especially with the amount of dust blown in the strong winds, and households with pools face water bills of double those without. Having spoken to people who have pools, many express their regrets and wish they were not encumbered.

No doubt readers will guess which option I selected. Being cost conscious and a non-swimmer, I decided to seek a property without a pool but this restricts the number of properties available. I also stipulated an average sized plot as too much ground would require maintenance. Even so, plots are generally far larger than the average UK property and houses are built to keep the heat out rather than in! This means that they can be very cold in the winter months as neither central heating nor insulation are common installations and floors are traditionally all tiled. After extensive searching, I finally decided upon a villa-type property with some mountain views yet convenient for shops and easy motorway access.

In mid January 2015, I finally left the UK to embark upon a 1500 mile [2400 km] drive to my chosen province of Almería. Things didn’t exactly go to plan as I was unable to move into the house immediately and also had to wait for my possessions to be transported from the UK. Finally I moved into my new home on 28 January and have most rooms straight and tidy, hence the chance to sit down and write this overdue blog! There will be plenty of maintenance to undertake in the future, especially redecoration, but overall the place is now clean and habitable. The priority is to integrate into the community that comprises a large number of expats from the UK and Belgium, as well as local people. Also, one has to come to terms with excessive Spanish bureaucracy and the time taken for things to get done. It’s all part of the Spanish lifestyle though which simply adds to the charm of living here. In time, there will be plenty of places to explore, both locally and further afield, and it is hoped that some of these will be featured on these pages. Meanwhile the featured photos show the landscape in February although I should mention that, overall, the winter here has been the coldest for at least four years with snow on the highest mountain peaks. Talk about bad timing on my part!