Seemed a Good Idea, naturally

Emily Green visits a 'revolutionary' west London supermarket with West Coast aspirations

The owners of Planet Organic, which opened in Bayswater, west London, earlier this month, want to get one thing straight from the outset: it is a "revolutionary natural food supermarket", not a health-food shop.

Whatever it is, it has a few stylish tendencies: it sells a decent selection of organic wines, has a juice and coffee bar, a florist, and even a spray of flowers at one of the checkouts, and the woman on the till is pretty enough to sell cigarettes in Quaglino's. Large blown-up black-and-white photographs of farm scenes are displayed at reception.

The first shelves one approaches are stocked with vegetables, including greenish English tomatoes, neatly trimmed spring onions, luscious watercress, smooth-skinned Israeli avocados. Those unused to seeing oranges, lemons and limes in their natural state may wonder where the fluorescent colours and waxy textures have got to. Most impressive was a great selection of different varieties of strangely shaped gourds, which were stacked around a pot plant to artistic effect. Yet they might as well have been plastic: no one did what any vendor in a Caribbean, Indian or Italian market would do - slice some open to show the flesh.

Just past the gourds is a cornucopia for pill poppers, a hypochondriac's heaven: aisle after aisle of vitamins A-Z, ginsengs, homeopathic remedies for coughs and colds, rheumatism, burns, pimples, eczema, scrapes and PMT. By way of beauty aids there are hennas, aloe rubs and fragrant shampoos.

Only in the second half of the store does one discover most of the food. There are some nice products: blue corn chips, Shipton Mill flour, Denes Crunchy Wholegrain Health Logs (for dogs). However, the breads are a scandal: none are day-fresh, some are brick-like parodies of sourdough. A cheese shelf is clinical looking, not a patch on that in a decent deli, never mind Neal's Yard Dairy in London's Covent Garden. It should be added that many farmhouse English cheeses are organic in everything but labelling.

At the very rear is the revolutionary part: a meat counter with freshly ground mince, good organic chickens (Soil Association-certified happy birds) and some nice-looking little lamb chops. I bought some of the mince, which proved too lean for my taste but still good. A chicken, muscular enough to convince one that it had really ranged freely, boiled nicely and produced flavourful meat and excellent stock. Size 4 eggs, costing pounds 1.49 for six, were a disaster. The chickens who laid them may have been having a great old time, but their eggs had been out of the henhouse too long to be of much use to a cook. The whites were thin, the yolks collapsing. Planet Organic should note that even Sainsbury's puts the dates when eggs are laid on the box.

Next the fish section. A wet fish counter had some undyed haddock, good- looking herring and ultra-pink salmon. One wonders where the haddock came from, since there is precious little in the North Sea. Though cordial, Planet Organic's staff are not particularly convincing about the provenance of their fish: of two men behind the counter, one told me their salmon was from Ireland, the other confidently said it was from Bristol. In fact, though not labelled as such, it was most likely Glenarm salmon, produced in Northern Ireland and marketed through an agent in the West Country.

Glenarm is the best of farmed salmon, the fish penned in netted enclosures in the open sea. But, as the Belfast Office of Trading Standards told me when I first repeated Glenarm's assurances that its salmon was "natural", the fish is dyed. It uses a "nature identical" dye. (Planet Organic's press statement insists there are no nature identical flavourings in its stock, but says nothing about dyes.)

And while Glenarm claims not to use dichlorvos, a highly toxic chemical used to control sea lice, it did seek, and has permission, to use it. Perhaps the most worrying aspect of any salmon farming operation, particularly one in the open sea, is the inevitable escape of farmed stocks during storms. These escaped fish can then interbreed with wild stocks, potentially disrupting genetically programmed migration patterns.

I made two visits to Planet Organic a week apart. By the second visit, the display and quality of produce had improved noticeably. However, it will take years for this shop to gain any resemblance to the Californian organic supermarkets it appears to emulate. These stores evolved over 25 years, not as some quick Good Idea. Monterey Market in Berkeley, or the Farmer's Market in Los Angeles, do not devote half their shelf space to pills, but to fresh vegetables and herbs. Their mushrooms are not restricted to cultivated brown buttons, but take in dozens of wild varieties, including chanterelles and ceps. They eschew plastic bags and sell reusable canvas carriers. Their owners display produce like the Italians, cook like the French, and know their producers by their first names.

Planet Organic is not a supermarket but a vaguely promising health-food shop with a meat counter. Mind you, like a supermarket, Planet Organic sells literature by the checkout. Not Hello! or the Radio Times, but the Green Guide for West London, The Te of Piglet and The Tao of Pooh.

Next week, Emily Green reports on Out of This World. Described as 'Britain's first green supermarket chain', the store opened in Bristol yesterday and eight more branches are planned nationwide, including London and Nottingham, by 1996.

The following price comparison is made between standard conventional ranges of products from Sainsbury's and Planet Organic. Only the milk costed is organic, and of identical quality, in both instances. It should be stressed that the prices do not necessarily reflect quality, which varies time to time, producer to producer. For example, while the organic chicken was noticeably better than conventional, the organic eggs were in poor condition. The comparison should be viewed purely as an indication of the sorts of premiums commanded by foods marketed as environmentally friendly.

FOOD TYPE SAINSBURY'S PLANET ORGANIC

chicken pounds 1.03/lb pounds 2.28/lb

mince 99p/lb pounds 3.13/lb

yoghurt 59p/150g 37p/120g

cottage cheese 79p/227g 79p/250g

spinach 69p/200g (approx pounds 1.55/lb) pounds 1.09/lb

tomatoes 49p/lb 95p/lb

clementines 59p/lb pounds 1.99/lb

Cox apples 55p/lb 85p/lb

lemons 18p each (at 3oz each, approx pounds 1.08/lb) pounds 1.25/lb

bananas 29p/lb pounds 1.39/lb

Six size-4 eggs 79p pounds 1.49

organic milk 38p/pint 49p/pint

tin of dog food 46p/400g 79p/400g

Suggested Topics
Sport
The Pipes and Drums of The Scottish Regiments perform during the Opening Ceremony for the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games at Celtic Park on July 23, 2014 in Glasgow, Scotland.
Commonwealth gamesThe actor encouraged the one billion viewers of the event to donate to the children's charity
Sport
Members of the Scotland deleagtion walk past during the opening ceremony of the 2014 Commonwealth Games at Celtic Park in Glasgow on July 23, 2014.
Voices
voicesGood for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, writes Grace Dent
Arts and Entertainment
The Tour de France peloton rides over a bridge on the Grinton Moor, Yorkshire, earlier this month
film
PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
fashion Designs are part of feminist art project by a British student
News
Very tasty: Vladimir Putin dining alone, perhaps sensibly
news
Life and Style
Listen here: Apple EarPods offer an alternative
techAre custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?
Arts and Entertainment
Top guns: Cole advised the makers of Second World War film Fury, starring Brad Pitt
filmLt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a uniform
News
The University of California study monitored the reaction of 36 dogs
sciencePets' range of emotions revealed
News
Snoop Dogg pictured at The Hollywood Reporter Nominees' Night in February, 2013
people... says Snoop Dogg
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from Shakespeare in Love at the Noel Coward Theatre
theatreReview: Shakespeare in Love has moments of sheer stage poetry mixed with effervescent fun
News
Joining forces: young British men feature in an Isis video in which they urge Islamists in the West to join them in Iraq and Syria
newsWill the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?
Arts and Entertainment
The nomination of 'The Wake' by Paul Kingsnorth has caused a stir
books
News
i100
Life and Style
food + drinkZebra meat is exotic and lean - but does it taste good?
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

PMO Analyst - London - Banking - £350 - £400

£350 - £400 per day: Orgtel: PMO Analyst - Banking - London - £350 -£400 per d...

Cost Reporting-MI Packs-Edinburgh-Bank-£350/day

£300 - £350 per day + competitive: Orgtel: Cost Reporting Manager - MI Packs -...

Insight Analyst – Permanent – Up to £40k – North London

£35000 - £40000 Per Annum plus 23 days holiday and pension scheme: Clearwater ...

Test Lead - London - Investment Banking

£475 - £525 per day: Orgtel: Test Lead, London, Investment Banking, Technical ...

Day In a Page

Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

Screwing your way to the top?

Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

Meet the US Army's shooting star

Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform
Climate change threatens to make the antarctic fur seal extinct

Take a good look while you can

How climate change could wipe out this seal
Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier for the terminally ill?

Farewell, my lovely

Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier?
Man Booker Prize 2014 longlist: Crowdfunded novel nominated for first time

Crowdfunded novel nominated for Booker Prize

Paul Kingsnorth's 'The Wake' is in contention for the prestigious award
Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster to ensure his meals aren't poisoned

Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster

John Walsh salutes those brave souls who have, throughout history, put their knives on the line
Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

A $25m thriller starring Sam Worthington to be made in God's Own Country
Will The Minerva Project - the first 'elite' American university to be launched in a century - change the face of higher learning?

Will The Minerva Project change the face of higher learning?

The university has no lecture halls, no debating societies, no sports teams and no fraternities. Instead, the 33 students who have made the cut at Minerva, will travel the world and change the face of higher learning
The 10 best pedicure products

Feet treat: 10 best pedicure products

Bags packed and all prepped for holidays, but feet in a state? Get them flip-flop-ready with our pick of the items for a DIY treatment
Commonwealth Games 2014: Great Scots! Planes and pipers welcome in Glasgow's Games

Commonwealth Games 2014

Great Scots! Planes and pipers welcome in Glasgow's Games
Jack Pitt-Brooke: Manchester City and Patrick Vieira make the right stand on racism

Jack Pitt-Brooke

Manchester City and Patrick Vieira make the right stand on racism
How Terry Newton tragedy made iron men seek help to tackle their psychological demons

How Newton tragedy made iron men seek help to tackle their psychological demons

Over a hundred rugby league players have contacted clinic to deal with mental challenges of game