Back in the mid 90s when I first visited Albufeira, there was one supermarket in town, the Modelo just to the east of the old centre, and it was neither large nor inexpensive. Things change: although it’s still there, the Modelo is now larger (and being extended) and has become much keener on price, partly because it’s now part of the Continente group.
Another part of the reason for keener prices is that discounter Lidl has also arrived in town during the intervening time, and with a large car park and seven days a week opening. Many expats from across the more northern European countries shop here: it’s a name they know. No, it’s not merely about competition, but brand awareness and the size of the market: both these stores stay busy most of their opening hours.
Added to the mix recently has been a largish Pingo Doce outlet, which suggests that the market for locals’ custom is also growing: this is a brand that you would normally associate with convenience store and town centre shops, and it’s not one I’ve seen outside Portugal. For instance, you’ll find their stores in the building by Track 5 of Lisbon’s Santa Apolónia station (oriented towards travellers – always a good stock of inexpensive sarnies), and tucked away on the city’s Rua 1. Dezembro (manically busy, and an indication of how many folk live in the Baixa).
There are also the inevitable out of town supermarkets – Continente have one nearby – and other chains (the Jumbo in Faro is part of the French Groupe Auchan). Apart from the absence of the usual British culprits, this is the same kind of retail scenery you might encounter anywhere in Europe (the bus journey from Budapest airport to the Metro terminus takes you past one of the city’s substantial Tesco stores).
All this, we are told, gives us what we want, and, more or less, whenever we want it. But it also enables various large organisations to grab market share, so is not so different across borders.