Swiss supermarket news: Carrefour sells up to Coop

This news item is probably of no interest to anyone who doesn't live in Switzerland, but French supermarket giant Carrefour has apparently given up on the Swiss market and sold their stores to Coop (news in German).

Now I am not really surprised. I've only been to the Carrefour store near here a few times, but each time I've wondered why it was so popular. Okay, they did often have some loss-leader type sales on staple items, a wider variety of cuts of packaged meat, and so on. But if you looked closely, they definitely had some problems: the quality of meat was not as good as at the other supermarkets, especially Migros; aisles were often soiled and shelves sloppily stocked; and as for the produce...forget it. (The worst peaches I've ever eaten, or rather taken a bite out of and then spat out, were from Carrefour).

Carrefour was always packed with English-speakers and other non-Swiss type people though. Perhaps because the aisles were marked, unlike the typical Swiss supermarket where you have to sort of scope out the layout of the store before you know where things are. Or maybe it was because of those loss-leader sales items. Carrefour was a supermarket very much in the style of U.K. or U.S. chains in that respect - a 'big box' store. In any case it's interesting to see that this approach didn't succeed in Switzerland.

It takes some getting used to how shopping works in different countries - when I first moved to Switzerland I was whinging all the time about how the aisles were unmarked, how nutrition labels only indicated numbers by the 100g of content instead of per serving, how Migros (the leading supermarket chain) mostly stocked house brand items and very few name brands. And yes, there was the fact that prices were high, way high, especially for meat. But now that I've been here for a while and used to the way things are, certain approaches make perfect sense, and other approaches taken in other markets/countries start to look weird. For instance, whole chickens here are tiny - around a kilo - which is at least one-third smaller than a typical roast chicken size in the U.S. And they cost more. But then, a kilo chicken is more than enough for two or three people, and they are really tasty too. Out of season fruits and vegetables are very expensive - at the moment broccoli is about 8 CHF (around $6) per kilo. But I've learned to live with these local 'quirks' and even find them logical - so why not buy cheap produce when it's in season? So we eat lots of peppers and zucchini now, and only get broccoli in the winter - nothing wrong with that.

I suppose though if one were unable or unwilling to go with the flow, it might be difficult. Beef in Switzerland is wildly expensive, so if you had to have roast beef and steaks regularly this might be an issue. Me, I just eat a whole lot less beef, and more of those tasty little chickens.

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83 Walmart stores closed earlier this year or last. No loss!

Just because something is done a certain way in the U.S., or U.K. definitely does not make it any better!

Do an emule search for 'Supermarket Secrets'. It's also posted on youtube/google video: part 1 and part 2.

shows where those chickens come from when they cost about 4 euros and are HUGE. Or those out-of-season vegetables. My favorite part is the beginning intro, where the professional chef calls the ready-meal 'A crime against humanity'.

It's funny you should post on this- I just blogged about Carrefour's presence in Japan and how they gave up that market to Aeon. (I had a stellar gluten free buckwheat crepe there many years ago, which inspired me to experiment with a recipe that I had to post about.) I'm not sure of Carrefour's appeal in Switzerland, but I enjoyed shopping there in Chiba (Makuhari, if I remember correctly) because they had an excellent selection of wine, cheese, and other imported food products that were otherwise hard to find. Due to my perhaps misplaced nostalgic fondness for them, I'm rather sorry to hear that they closed yet another store.

I think I agree with you on all your points, even though I've made only one trip to Carrefour, in Valais. I really appreciate the per-weight numbers as they make more sense to me. What is one serving for me, is easily just 1/3 for many people I know. Also, what I found in the US is a lot of tricky labelling, for example a package would actually contain 2 servings, even though it was a open-and-consume sort of thing. And I love the eggs graded by grams, I mean, what do AA grade eggs mean anyway?

A couple of points I can't resist making before I go. It's funny to think that Migros was once the cheap discounter (actually, I think their image is still that in the minds of many people). There's a documentary out about Duttweiler, the founder of Migros, that I recommend heartily. Two, the deep discount model that WalMart has was actually popularized by the Albrecht brothers who started and own Aldi.

I saw a trailer for the Duttweiler documentary when we went to see Waitress (which I highly recommend! Pies!) - looked interesting! Migros is a very interesting operation to they managed to push across the idea of private label and high quality at the same time. (I read a Japanese book about Migros recently...they much admired the business model, which is quite interesting.)