There are two grocery stores I frequent here, both within walking distance. I have not made it to the Emerald City of Tesco yet, as it’s outside downtown. Instead I use the Marks & Spencer and the Sainsbury.
Marks & Spencer, the more upscale of the two, is a department store with a grocery store in it. It offers baked goods, fresh fruits, veges, and dairy but everything else is prepared foods. A lot of it is quite nice, not frozen, and pretty tasty. This includes sandwiches and runs to complete multi-course meals. But you won’t find paper towels, olive oil, or cleaning products there. For that you have to go to Sainsbury.
Which is a real grocery store but a little bit more down-market. More ingredients, fewer prepared foods. You find the variety of products we see in the US but not the variety within categories of products. For example, there’s the house brand of soup and Campbell’s and that’s it.
Both stores use hand baskets or wheeled baskets (kind of like wheeled luggage) but there are no shopping carts. Which works well because you’re lugging this stuff home by hand so the basket serves as an automatic governor on over-buying. Having to carry it home also means you shop more often, buy less than you would if you had a car, and get fresher food. Not a bad approach.
The food quality is generally good, though the fruit doesn’t have the curb appeal that it does in the US (i.e. hasn’t been gassed into some unnatural color). Baked goods are excellent and the veges can be good but you have to look carefully. I haven’t really purchased any meat so I can’t comment, although it looks good. The nutrition labels are pretty familiar. They use the same slimy trick of listing the various nutrition values based on an arbitrary weight or volume as a “serving”, of which there are usual 2.3 or 3.7 or some such inscrutable number in the container. Instead of a “Calories” item on the label, though, there’s an “Energy” item, listed in both kJ (kiloJoules) and kcal (kiloCalories). When was the last time you admonished yourself for eating too many kiloJoules?
At the checkout, there’s the usual moving belt and some last-minute, impulse-buy stuff (but not the wall of it you see in the US). There are no paper bags and you’re charged 3 pence per plastic bag. You may bring your own bags, of course. The cashier sits facing you and the scale/scanner, then register is between you and him. You bag your own purchases, unless you ask for help. Amazingly, after you’ve paid, the cashier waits for you to finish bagging, put your wallet away, get out your sunglasses, or do whatever you need to do, before starting to process the next order – very civilized indeed!