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You know the produce industry has gotten under your skin when a part of vacation prep becomes looking up another country's grocery retailers. I recently returned from an eight-day trip to Ireland, where, in Kilkenny, highlights included touring an 800-year-old castle — and two (more modern) produce departments.
While trekking through the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland I visited two Dunnes Stores, an independent fruit and veg shop, a Sainsbury's, and a SuperValu (unrelated to the U.S. chain) as well as convenience stores Centra, Applegreen and Eurospar.
What surprised me most was how many of those stores relied on a basic merchandising scheme of black or dark-colored reuseable plastic containers; Dunnes, Sainsbury's, Eurospar and the neighborhood shop Roots and Fruits all displayed most of their bulk and packaged produce in raked arrays of RPCs, some of which were plastic-lined to catch moisture from misted product or demarcate organic product — and produce departments were usually in the back of the store. SuperValu, which was otherwise a little scruffy-looking, had its produce up front just inside the door, and displayed bulk offerings in burlap-draped bowls.
But what many of these stores seemed to lack in imagination, they made up for with quality — displays were generally well-stocked, and the fruits and vegetables looked fresh and attractive.
Call me nerdy, but I thought the labels on the packaged produce were fascinating. Not only did they show the country of origin, but they also included “best before” and “display until” dates (which were 2-3 days apart, generally), and a little icon showing the serving size and how that counted toward five servings of produce a day.
My favorite product was the bags of fresh-cut diced carrot and swede (what’s known as rutabaga here in the States), although the bramley cooking apples as big as my face were a close second.
It’s fun to poke around the produce departments and shops of other countries to see what — and how — people really eat away from all the tourist traps and fancy restaurants in travel guides. And you have the chance to try products you can’t get at home, too. The grapes we bought at Sainsbury’s, for example, were typical thompsons and red globes, but they were grown in Greece — and they were some of the best grapes I’ve had in my life.