Life without eel-encrusted focaccia melons

Jumbo Food vs. Jumbo Non-FoodIn a radical departure from the everyday, Oliver and I went shopping at Sobeys instead of the Atlantic Superstore this afternoon. After several years of vacillating back and forth between the two, our family became regular Superstore customers around the time Oliver was born; I hadn’t been inside a Sobeys for a weekly shop for almost 5 years.

What a pleasant surprise.

The Superstore is almost always crowded and chaotic. And there’s about 3 acres worth of non-grocery items in the middle of the store — everything from deck chairs to DVD players — that makes the trip from bread to dishwashing liquid a 5 minute slog. Combine this with the “never enough cash registers” problem, and shopping at the Superstore is like an hour long prison sentence.

Of course what the Superstore has a lot going for it, or at least the appearance of a lot going for it: a very broad selection of foods. Before the Superstore you couldn’t buy a baguette on Prince Edward Island; the Superstore has several varieties, including ones purportedly made from French flour. They’ve got oodles of olives, and salmon on cedar planks, organic soy milk and a flower section bigger than most florists. For Islanders itching for a simulation of big city living, the Superstore provides a decent facsimile.

For a while it looked like Sobeys was trying to meet them head on. Sobeys installed a sushi chef. And an olive kiosk. And a “health food” section. They gave out exotic recipes that used exotic sauces. They installed wood-fired pizza ovens. And they even imported the deck chairs and the DVD players into a newly expanded middle section of non-grocery fluff.

I’m happy to say that those days are now over. Sobeys sells groceries now. The DVD player section has been replaced with a mini marshmallow island. The health food section, while still present, has lost its on-site nutritionist and scaled back to just the healthy basics. No more sushi. No more TD Bank branch. No more video rentals or shoe repair. Just a regular grocery store.

Oliver and I were shopping at the height of the grocery buying week, Saturday afternoon, yet we made quick work of Catherine’s complex shopping list. The only thing we couldn’t find: fresh pizza dough. There was no wait at the checkout: we just breezed right through. What would have taken us 90 minutes at the Superstore was done in 45 at Sobeys.

Of course the paucity of Saturday afternoon customers probably isn’t such a Good Thing for Sobeys. But I’m certain that once the word gets out that at Sobeys you don’t have to wade through live eel tanks and exotic star-fruit carving displays, that you can just, well, go in and buy groceries, the aisles will start to fill up. You heard it here first.


Matthew's picture
Matthew on November 5, 2005 - 23:02 Permalink

My unbiased opinion (I am a Sobey’s employee) is quite the same. I shop at Super Store because they have everything that you couldn’t think of, but the work at Sobey’s is not as strenuous because there is rarely a large flow of customers — only on holidays, etc. I could never imagine working at Superstore!

DerekMac's picture
DerekMac on November 6, 2005 - 06:31 Permalink

It’s partly due to fact that there is a more even distribution of Sobeys. We Stratfordians have our own, while the downtowners have the Allen Street location, and the westerners (Cornwall etc.) have the West Royalty store, while most SuperStore shoppers seen to congregate to the big store, and ignore the one at the Charlottetown Mall. By having a Sobeys on the way home from work and other activities, I tend to shop at times other than Saturday afternoon, which means that visits by myself and other customers are more evenly space throughout the week. Going to SuperStore requires a special trip, and since we can’t shop on Sunday, the only time many of us have for this is Saturday afternoon, when we are faced with long lineups at the checkout. According to a SuperStore manager, the bigger stores (SuperStore main and Sobeys West Royalty) are at their most successful during the winter holiday season, and during the summer, when people are looking for more variety, and have the time to spend at the checkout.

Nikolaj Nyholm's picture
Nikolaj Nyholm on November 7, 2005 - 12:21 Permalink


As a dane I can only be amazed with the selection you have, and I can’t help being both awed and appalled at the same time. ;)

And for the pizza dough; here is a recipe (made it as late as last night) that will take you no longer than finding the pre-made stuff at either place:

 — 100 gr. wheat flour, sifted
 — 2 dl lukewarm water
 — 25 gr. yeast (dunno the amount if dry yeast)
Let stand for 15- 20 minutes.

Sift another 350 gr. wheat flour onto kitchen table. Create a ‘bowl’ in the middle of the heap and pour above mix into this. Mix with your hands, adding more water as needed.
Cut a cross in the dough and let stand in a bowl underneath a damp cloth for about 40 minutes.

Listen to Barry Schwartz about how we can’t have it all, while you’re waiting.

Ann's picture
Ann on November 7, 2005 - 15:41 Permalink

I just had an equally amazing shopping experience — I went to the Co-op. I used to shop there all the time (pre-Superstore) but found that I was seduced away by the lure of so much choice. When I did visit the Co-op, I found it pretty shoddy by comparison.
That has changed. I was able to get everything on my list in 20 minutes;;;from getting out of the car to getting back in. They have added a small health food section and, while there are not infinite varieties of soy milk, for example, there is soy milk — and everything else I needed, too. It was peaceful shopping there and I was amazed to find everything I needed in no time flat.
I did not buy vegetables sonce I buy most of them at the farmer’s market so I can’t comment on that. But boy, I have just removed a major irritant from my life and I am happy about that.

Rob L.'s picture
Rob L. on November 7, 2005 - 15:57 Permalink

I agree Ann. I find the Coop perfect when my list requires more than a quick stop at Brighton Clover Farm, and less than an expedition to the Superstore.

oliver's picture
oliver on November 7, 2005 - 22:40 Permalink

purportedly made from French flour”

I doubt it. Doesn’t Canadian law require equal parts French and English flour?