November 4, 2012 1:42:00 PM CET
Dutch retailing is fairly boring in comparison to what you are used to. The typical highstreet (i.e. most towns) comprises the following: Hema (kind of M&S in concept), a range of medium-priced fashion stores (mainly local and some European), Etos (poor cousin of Boots, owned by the American/Dutch Ahold group), the odd high tech/white goods wholesalers such as Blok and BCC, a Dixons, a Carpetright, a range of mobile phone shops including the Dutch national brands KPN and hi, some non-descript lifestyle retailers, a speciaal zaak (pet shop), Blokker (a modern general dealer selling a wide range of general merchandis comprising mainly national brands at lowish prices), Xenos (a kind of pound shop with a bazaar look/feel - weekly visits will deliver unexpected results), Toko (selling eastern/Chinese foods). Kruidvat and DA (downmarket versions of Etos/Boots), V&D (a downmarket House of Fraser) with its own restaurant chain La Place. Nice-ish place to go for a fresh, cooked-while-you-wait meal though not consistent. Good bread to-go though. Although it is a very established Dutch business, it now belongs to an American company and they have tried to lift the range of labels and service levels (which lacks in standard Dutch retailing). De Tuinen (a natural remedy/wholefood store which belongs to Holland & Barrett and even stocks some Neals Yard and many other international brands), loads of hair salons (no-appointment-needed variety of mediocre repute). Neighbourhood butchers, bakers, delis and fishmongers can be found in most towns; some a lot better than others. The quality of bread is reasonably good and most butchers have only dressed meats and limited, small portions of beef and pork and various cured meats. Veal is not common and lamb is found mainly in Turkish establishments, although small, high- priced cuts can now be found in certain supermarkets. Most supermarkets stock wines and a wide selection of beer whilst some stores have an adjacent off-sales. As for grocery shopping, there is absolutely nothing that even comes close to Waitrose - the average Dutch palate is simply NOT refined enough. By far the best local offering (on a national scale) is Albert Heijn (hereafter AH) which I believe is a down-scaled version of Sainsburys. Although it is a well-known Dutch brand, it too belongs to an American company managed from Amsterdam(n) - pun intended. The shops have been redesigned in the past 2 years and most outlets that I have visited in the meantime have benefitted from the new customer-friendli(er) design and a slightly wider product offering. Including big-label cured meats from Italy, Spain and Germany and French Cheeses. (Funny, you would expect these staples to be common place in neighbouring European countries, but they are not. Anyway, the quality of fresh produce/dairy/meat/poultry and bread at AH is by far the most varied and best in NL. AH is the largest retailer of meat and they lead the pack in coffee and daily fresh sales. BTW, their price-fighter Euroshopper housebrand is managed from Amsterdam and stocked in supermarkets accross Europe, making it probably the most affordable qualitative grocery brand in Europe. Grocery stores in Holland are small in comparison to the UK and most people buy stuff daily. Shops such as AH and Jumbo have free in-store coffee/biscuits and some sort of kids entertainment. In-store tastings is not common but occuring more-and-more. There are a host of other supermarkets that vary from region-to-region, but the two that I have mentioned are about the most alligned to what you would be used to. Jumbo sells ONLY Irish beef and decent lamb cuts on occasions. For totally fresh offerings, most towns/cities have one or more weekly markets. In bigger cities the range of fare/quality would be a lot better than average supermarket offerings. Marks & Spencers CEO is a Dutchman and there are plans to return to Europe (they pulled out in 2005). Some English food brands you can find here are Blue Elephant curry/Thai condiments, Jordans cereals, Innocent fruit juices, Lea & Perkins condiments, Maldon salt, Lurpak butter, Cathedral City Cheddar, Kettle Fry and Burts Chips, Marmite, very limited Cadburys. International brands such as Hellmans Mayo is also becomming more popular although it is double the price of the Unilever Calve range which is a whitish, sweet gloo that I guess appeals to the Dutch palate. If you want a real foodie expereince though you should visit the relevant markets or foodie shops in Amsterdam, Rotterdam and The Hague. Organic (Biologish in Dutch) is traded in most supermarkets though in my opinion Organic in NL (of origin) is a joke. I noted you also had a question about street maps. I like to use Funda (an exceptional Dutch real estate site which you may already know) to search cities/town before I visit them. I find that the link to neighbourhoods/streets is a lot more effective than simply using google maps - try it and enjoy your stay in NL. Spelling not checked.
This post was edited by melloncoli at November 4, 2012 1:47:49 PM CET