Saturday 27 December 2014

What's in a name? Fond memories and probably the best sizzlers in the world

Published 08/08/2013 | 05:00

BRANDS have a cache in modern society. Not just in the world of fashion but in groceries, too. It is therefore sad to see Superquinn, a firm favourite in this country, coming to an end. Musgrave, which acquired Superquinn in 2011, has announced that early next year its 24 Superquinn shops will be rebranded as SuperValu.

Superquinn was legendary. It was the place you went when things were good. It was the place you went to go the extra mile, to buy the 'really good stuff'. Superquinn was to Ireland what Marks & Spencers was to the UK.

Once a month, my father would come home bearing a Superquinn cake box filled with cream doughnuts and chocolate eclairs. They were big, fluffy and utterly delicious. Superquinn was legendary in my eyes.

The business was founded in 1960 by Feargal Quinn, and it remained privately held by the Quinn family until 2005. The fact that it stayed in the family gave it that lovely homely feel. Quinn was ahead of his time. He was one of the first retailers to believe that the customer was king. He felt it was essential that his stores "sold quality products and had a warm, friendly customer service".

Superquinn was one of the first supermarkets to have a fancy bakery section, with different breads and a dazzling array of cream buns. It also had a big wine section. Again it was ahead of the game, offering quality wines from all over the world. You were guaranteed to find more than bottles of Blue Nun or Black Tower in the Superquinn wine section.

People have always done their bulk buying in the cheaper outlets, but Superquinn was where you went to shop if you were pushing the boat out. Superquinn sausages have long been famous for their succulent flavour. No other sausage tastes as good as they do. Many is the Irish mother who has sent her child off to foreign climes with a packet of Superquinn sausages in the suitcase.

Superquinn, like Roches Stores of old, had a cache. If you were doing your full weekly shop in Superquinn, things were clearly going well for you.

Can we forget the advent of Marks & Spencers coming to Dublin? I've no doubt Feargal Quinn was concerned. Marks & Spencers were rivals in the good food game. But Superquinn held its own. Its customers were loyal because it was loyal to its customers.

While Musgrave has announced the loss of 102 jobs at the Superquinn support office in Lucan, Marks & Spencers has announced it's cutting 180 jobs in Ireland. Are the days of the luxury supermarkets coming to an end?

Musgrave chief executive Chris Martin is convinced that, despite the job losses, customers will benefit from the name change and reorganisation of Superquinn.

"Shoppers will benefit from an improved in-store experience, better choice and value." He went on to promise that the Superquinn sausages will still be sold – thank God for small mercies.

When Lidl and Aldi arrived in Ireland during the Celtic tiger years, many's the person with deep pockets (at least they thought they were deep, for some reason they didn't notice the hole in the bottom), who gasped. Shopping in a supermarket that looked like something out of communist Russia! Had the world gone crazy?

Celtic Tigresses were not going to be caught dead in one of 'those supermarkets'. A supermarket where things were bought in bulk, where design and comfort were irrelevant, where they didn't have a beautifully displayed wine section or freshly baked croissants? God forbid you'd be seen in there. You'd never get over the shame of it.

And yet... now, you can barely get a parking space in any Lidl or Aldi car park. Shoppers mow each other down in an effort to get to the bargains early. Bulk buying is de rigueur. These days, you're a spendthrift or a Flash Harry if you don't shop in discount stores.

As a nation on its knees with crippling debt, we have become a lot more discerning about our groceries. We want a bargain, we need a bargain, we demand a bargain. The grocery budget has been slashed in all households.

So perhaps it was time for Superquinn to bow out. Perhaps this new economy has no place for high-end wines, freshly baked pastries and warm customer service. At least they've promised to keep the sausages.

I wonder what'll happen to those fresh cream doughnuts though... I'm crossing my fingers.

Irish Independent

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