One of my favorite things to do when in the United States is to look around at grocery stores. There is so much to see that we don’t have here in the Netherlands, and the selection is so much bigger; hundreds of different types of shredded cheese, potatoes and other produce much bigger in size than anything sold in Holland, and aisles of strange sodas that Europeans have never even dreamed of. The average supermarket in the U.S. has 45,000 different products, compared to ‘only’ 15,000 in the Netherlands.
The average Wal-mart super center in the United States is 180,000 to 250,000 square feet (that is 16,500 to 23,000 square meters), and don’t forget that the parking lots that surround these monstrosities are several times the size of the store itself! Compare that to the Netherlands: the average supermarket size here is a mere 8,000 ft (just under 750 m). That is 26 times smaller … boy, what a difference!
Holland has exceptionally small grocery stores, not only compared to the United States, but also compared to other countries in Europe. As far as I know there are huge megastores in every European country except in Holland; Germany has Wal-Mart, they have large Tesco stores from Turkey to Poland, Auchan has large supermarkets from Morocco to Russia, Carrefour has over 500 super-stores in countries like Romania and Greece, and E. LeClerc has large stores in Italy, Estonia and Czech Republic.
‘Hypermarkets’ like that simply don’t exist here in the Netherlands.
Some of the Auchans and Carrefours I have seen in France are even bigger than any Wal-mart I have seen in the United States! These French stores sometimes have up to 100 registers (!) and have entire malls attached to the front with 20 or 30 other stores! They’re incredible; you can go there for a whole day and shop for such different things as mattrasses, flat-screen TVs, milk and bread all from the comfort of your shopping cart.
There is something to be said for having cute-small-tiny-little stores like Albert Heyn here in the Netherlands. Perhaps price competition is better for family-owned butchers and bakeries, the landscape is not spoiled with acres upon acres of parking lots, and people here are used to taking a bike to a local supermarket every day, instead of going to a wholesale store like Sam’s Club and filling up their SUV’s with enough food for a month.
And although I think it would be wonderful to live across a large American Dominick’s store, where every day I could buy my beloved Pop-Tarts, it is perhaps even nicer to not being able to so easily buy these products. That makes it all the more special those times that we find the odd special product that we can usually not get.
Still, it surprises me that stores like Carrefour haven’t yet moved into the Netherlands; it seems like a perfect new market.