Everyone thinks Morrisons is for cheap northerners. At least, according to a recent report, Morrisons think that people think that they are for cheap northerners. So, they have started selling black Italian truffles.

Said truffles are a mere snip at £99/kg. Well outside the budget of the average cheapo lard-arse from the north east. Outside the budget of the average cheapo lard-arse from anywhere in the Western world, come to that. Is there a burning desire for black Italian (got to be Italian) truffles in Kirkstall? And sufficiently more there than in York, Harrogate, or Hull, to require they stock it there only? Of course not. Perhaps it is because the competition in those other cities is too strong. Certainly they undercut Waitrose whose truffle effort costs a hair’s breadth under £400/kg, and they are not even fresh. Selfridges do nothing at all in that way (at least not online), and neither do Harrods. Although as far as the latter is concerned, you will be pleased to hear that you can get a truffle shaver from them, should there be such an emergency.

Perhaps I am barking up the wrong tree slightly though. Perhaps they have researched their market really carefully and there really is a demand for fresh truffles in Kirkstall. I cannot really say whether that squares with my own ideas, as I have never heard of the place. So when I say this is clearly a marketing gimmick, I may be wrong. But I do not think I am. The fact that it has been reported in at least one national newspaper and also in this article has got to be worth a couple of hundred quid of anyone’s marketing budget. And in order to achieve that, what have they had to do? Buy in 2 kg of truffles (make it the plural for appearance’s sake), at a cost of probably less than £200 and email a press release to a few news desks. Suddenly the idea of Morrisons wanting to go upmarket seems a bit less likely?

As ever there is another perspective. The competition nationally amongst supermarkets does not make things easy for them. Tesco have traditionally been the standard cheap supermarket, and remain so. They probably do some nicer things and they are very consistent, but they are not going for higher-end shoppers and probably never will. There are food halls, Harrods and Selfridges, who do the highest end. One below this is John Lewis food halls and Waitrose, the two of which are owned by the same company. Their delivery arm is separate, but it is the same stuff.  In between Waitrose and Tesco there is a ‘lower middle class’ gap that is filled in by Sainsbury’s. At the very cheapest end there are Aldi and Lidl. Apparently these, both German in origin, are not micro-budget supermarkets everywhere; they are better-than average quality in parts of Germany. Either way, we appear to have quite a well-defined order with food halls at the most expensive end, then Waitrose, Sainsbury’s, Tesco and finally Aldi/Lidl being the cheapest. Thus, there is not a lot in the way of space to slide into for a supermarket like Morrisons, that is traditionally regional, but upon buying Safeway (as was) went national.

Plenty of people try to equate class with choice of supermarket. This seems like a weak structure to apply if you ask me, given how much else there is to look at. When I last checked, apparently £1 in every £8 that is spent in Britain, is spent in Tesco. I do not think that is a good thing, and I cannot get the ingredients I want, so I do not shop there. Food halls are too far away and I cannot be faffed with their expense when I am experimenting with a recipe anyway. And Sainsbury’s and Waitrose do me very well. I have never been into a Morrisons, and PR stunts like this one do not encourage me to. Of course, I can get what I want elsewhere and know a man who can do me a good price on black Italian truffles should I ever need them, which means I need not get the train to Kirkstall. But if I were running Morrisons and wanted the firm to stay competitive I am not sure what I would come up with to get them heard of by the widest possible market. If you were running Morrisons, what would you do?


This article was published in The Felix on 8th August 2011, and can be found in the on-line version here.