December 9, 2008


On the way back from the funeral neither of us spoke until, as we approached a supermarket on the edge of a town, Sra N. suddenly became animated and asked me to stop as she’d just remembered she’d run out of Lola’s favourite biscuits and a couple of other groceries.

When she emerged 15 minutes later, she looked more downhearted than ever.

"Just look at this," she exclaimed, brandishing a jar of instant coffee in her shaking hand. It was the supermarket’s marca blanca or own brand.

"You know, before Juan Antonio and I always had Bonka. Good Bonka."

Fortunately I knew what she was talking about otherwise I mightn’t have been able to stop myself falling over. What she was, in fact, referring to was NestlĂ©’s Bonka ground coffee. (Whoever dreamt up such a ridiculous name?)

"But, you know," she continued by way of explanation, "with Spain now in recession I have to watch every euro. I love my Helmann’s mayonesa and Tropicana pomelo (grapefruit juice) but now I’m forced to look only for marcas blancas. For Lola’s favourite biscuits too. It’s so sad."

Intrigued, I had a look at some Spanish newspapers as soon as I got home. Sales of Spanish supermarkets’ own brand products, I read, are up 33% on last year. And overall, discounted products (including own brands) accounted for 17.6% of spend on food and drink in the first half of 2008 compared with 16.1% for the same period last year.

And since 2009, by all accounts, looks to be tougher still, tiny Lola may find herself foregoing those biscuits altogether...

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