Helen Martin: No food nanny will tell me what to eat

'Nutrition nannies' are ready to pounce on your shopping at Waitrose. Picture: Getty
'Nutrition nannies' are ready to pounce on your shopping at Waitrose. Picture: Getty
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A few years ago, I ran a small community survey in the Evening News relating to food shopping, one of the main questions being where people shopped.

The majority always used the same supermarket, usually the one that was closest to them, which is understandable given the convenience, time pressure and familiarity with the layout.

We all regard the sector as highly competitive, with clever marketing luring shoppers from one major player to another. But many don’t budge.

The exception of course is budgeteers Lidl and Aldi who worked hard over many years to prove they supply high quality at half the price, thus increasingly winning customers from the supermarket giants.

I live in an unusual shopping location with Sainsbury’s, Waitrose, M&S, Tesco and Aldi all within easy car reach. Personally, I opt for Waitrose, Sainsbury’s and Aldi. I am not a one-supermarket loyalist.

It’s always interesting to see the different promotional and sales tactics employed, the latest of which is a Waitrose squad of “nutrition nannies”. By the end of next month, 11 will be deployed, and 100 throughout the whole chain by the end of the year.

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They’ll be on hand to look through a basket or trolley and advise customers on healthier options, how to read food labels, the most nutritious choices for vegetarians and vegans, and the best of seasonal produce available.

Personally, I don’t think that will go down well with the average profile of a Waitrose shopper in Morningside or Stockbridge.

Yummy mummies followed by kids in posh school uniforms, with their glossy car upstairs in the car park; middle-class pensioners carrying baskets of veal, salmon, fruit and veg, and muesli; a regular vegetarian array laid out on the conveyor belt; environmentally conscious runners and cyclists loading purchases into their athletic-style backpack; and varied trolleys containing rib-eye steaks (as well as other meats such as ordinary sausages and low-fat mince), along with sour-dough bread, olives, asparagus, caviar and £7 chorizos … that’s not an unusual check-out queue.

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The Edinburgh branches are located in areas where lawyers and sheriffs, lecturers and professors, doctors and surgeons, banking chiefs and even oil barons reside, along with ordinary punters in smaller abodes – like me. Waitrose, like any supermarket, sells everything from doughnuts and booze to ready-meals, ketchup, pizzas and tins of beans – it’s not confined to a health food shop. And its own-brand Essentials are very good and quite reasonably-priced.

But I suspect many of their shoppers would feel rather insulted that a staff member would assume superior knowledge on how to read a food label, which foods were in season, or good and bad nutritional values.

And nor is it likely that customers in Aldi, Lidl or any other shop feel they need help to buy their dinner.

Waitrose nutritional nannies are not policing and controlling, nor will they pounce on those pushing a trolley full of sugar, fat, bevvy and cakes. They will be present and available to give advice.

But their very existence suggests that shoppers need guidance. So much for the old phrases that “the customer is always right”, or that good service means providing what the customer wants.

The growth of a nanny state is one thing. Surely extending “nannydom” into our supermarket aisles is a step too far.