She's seen the planes, enjoyed the cheap flights, now she's going to try the baked beans. “I had two lovely cheap trips to Malta,” says Clare Gaches, 44. “So I thought I would try the shops.”
And boy does she like what she sees: a shopping bag bursting with tinned beans, pasta and the rest: 25 items, for a total of £6.25.
Because this, from Sir Stelios Haji-Ioannou, the man who gave us easyJet, is the first ever easyFoodstore – “a new concept store”, as it says on the big orange banner outside. Everything is 25p for the whole of February.
It isn't so much budget, as ultra-budget shopping. And judging by Clare and others at yesterday's official opening, easyFoodstore stands a good chance of revolutionising bargain shopping in the same way that Stelios's easyJet transformed cheap air travel.
From Acton, Greenford, and just five minutes' walk away they've come to the shop in Park Royal West, Brent. Don't be fooled by the name: there was no royalty, no park. The store overlooks London's North Circular Road. Instead of in-store muzak, you just get the usual roar of traffic.
“Harrods,” says Richard Shackleton, easyGroup's communications director, “it ain't.” No-one cares. Asked why they have come here, they have but one answer: price. With money tight, says Clare, a shop assistant: “The savings matter. Beans are 50p at Morrisons – on offer. Here they're 25p, twice as cheap. The pound stores are good. This is the best.”
The décor, to put it kindly, is basic. Think low-ceilinged industrial-estate office with row upon row of non-brand goods: tinned soup, tinned beans, pots of chicken and mushroom “noodle snacks” – in a more carefree age, you would call it the one-stop cornucopia for the bedsit-dwelling bachelor.
This, though, is no carefree age.
EasyFoodstore, says Richard, was partly inspired by the soup kitchens that Stelios had opened in Greece and Cyprus as the economic crisis bit. “The idea for this shop comes from that,” he says. “We have food banks in this country. But what happens if you have a low-paid job and you are no longer entitled to benefits or the food bank?”
But if Stelios is being philanthropic, he is also being shrewd?
EasyFoodstore may prove that money is tight for many. It also shows how budget shopping is now a boom business. Iceland has branched out into Food Warehouse stores. Aldi and Lidl have made inroads on the dominance of Tesco, Sainsbury's and Asda, doubling their joint market share to 10 per cent in just three years.
The middle classes may have resorted to them in the depths of recession, but they stayed with them thereafter. Last year 31 per cent of Aldi and Lidl shoppers were from upper middle and middle class AB demographic.
Which means, said Richard, that if budget shopping is booming, ultra-budget shopping's moment has come. “With Lidl and Aldi drifting upmarket,” he says, “It has left space at the bottom between them and food banks.
“Yes, there is a strong philanthropic thread to this, but we are also looking to make money. We'll decide the [non-introductory, non-loss leading] price point at some stage. I don't know what it will be but … You've got pound shops, what about a 50p store?”
Problems getting planning permission may have stopped Stelios launching easyFoodstore in Croydon in 2014, but that allowed him to create a mock-up shop and test it on focus groups. “They really liked it,” says Richard. “We wouldn't have gone ahead otherwise.”
And by the looks of it, other easyFoodstores will be opening soon. Because the queue for the till is stretching beyond the noodle snacks and heading towards the ketchup. Cereals, frozen chips and burgers have all sold out.
Zero-hours contract worker Mark Lowe, 38, a carer, has bought nearly everything still available, emerging with four bags full and only £19 the lighter: “These savings matter for me, for lots of people.”
Curiosity has persuaded Janine Towns, 61, to make a pit stop on her way to Asda. “I'll come here again. For the basics.”
And Clare? “I'm definitely coming back,” she says, carrying her beans and pasta to the bus stop. “Good on you Stelios!”Reuse content