My balcony overlooks the beautiful parking lot of Éxito, Colombia’s Walmart. It isn’t the best view of Medellín, but needless to say, I’m an Éxito regular. I go six times a week…more or less. Often, I go if I’m bored or just want to people-watch. The employees at Éxito probably recognize me as “that girl who walks really slow, takes 10 minutes to read a food label, always checks the prices on peanut butter, then looks defeated when she realizes one measly jar costs more than her daily pay.” The major grocery chains are Éxito, Pamona, Carulla and Carrefour and I’ve visited all of them. I have a favorite grocery store for everyday goods (Éxito), vegetables and international goodies (Carrefour), fruit salad (Carulla), and moderately drinkable soy milk (Pamona). Grocery shopping here is equally annoying and exciting…mostly exciting, but annoying only because of my Spanish disability. I will try to give you a snapshot of the wonders of the Colombian grocery store…
When you walk in Éxito, it feels like, well, a very very very clean Walmart, with a lot more employees and a little more security. If a bottle of juice spills in a Colombian grocery store, I can guess it will be cleaned within one minute by a team of smiling employees. Always spotless. You are first greeted by the smiling security guard and then I usually wind through the aisles aimlessly. There’s all of the standard aisles, but a wider variety of fruits, a lesser variety of cereal, two outrageously priced peanut butter options, and a large section devoted to arepas (essentially a thick corn tortilla that is loved by Colombians). The one thing that feels very different from American grocery stores is the outrageous number of employees and the fact that there are samples in every single aisle! No, I am not exaggerating.
Walking home from yoga a few nights ago (tired and hungry), I shrugged off cooking and fell into the trap of Éxito once again. The intention for dinner was a fresh fruit salad with cream and a juice. However, the wide array of samples turned my dinner into the following… an arepa with butter, two cubes of cheese with arequipe, a cup of yogurt, a strawberry dipped in chocolate, a cup of cereal, three Christmas cookies (given by Papá Noel himself), half a beer, AND a shot of whiskey! Needless to say, I did not need to purchase the fresh fruit salad. I gave into Papá Noel and bought a pack of Christmas cookies and called it a night.
The only disadvantage to this plethora of samples is that I’m forced to pretend I know what the brand representatives are talking about. My Spanish is on an upwards incline, but I still think I know only about 60% of what they’re saying. So, I just take the sample, smile, giggle, look interested, and say “si??? bueno!” once in a while. So far it has worked.
Also high on my list of favorite things in Éxito is their obsession with “free products attached to other products.” For example, you buy a soda. One soda is regular. Attached to one soda is a “gratis” bag of chips. Which soda would you choose? Unless you are dumb and/or on a diet, you choose the one with the free chips.
I ventured to my favorite spot yesterday for a mop, soda, eggs, and arepa. I came home with all of the above PLUS a sponge, bag of chips, butter, and an extra arepa. Yes, I understand it’s just a clever marketing scheme, but I’m all in favor of the “free products attached to other products” trend. I’ve seen this in the US once in a while, but American grocery stores, please increase the free products. Nothing makes me happier than free goodies…especially those that are edible.
In summary, spotlessly clean, nicest employees on earth, samples in every aisle, and free products attached to most purchases…Colombian grocery stores: One more reason to visit!
This mirrors my experience with Home Plus, the Korean supermarket, where I am always really self conscious of the fact that I spend hours reading labels, and my purchases consist of over priced imported foods, and the occasional ramen…