Monday, August 02, 2010

Houmous, falafel and the Cyclades

Marks & Spencer (aka M&S) is a major British retailer, with over 895 stores in more than 40 territories around the world. It is the largest clothing retailer in the UK, as well as being an upmarket food retailer, and as of 2008, the 43rd largest retailer in the world. Despite its huge and undoubtable success, M&S is unable to recruit even one person with knowledge of the Eastern Mediterranean into their Product Development department.

Which would be fine, and not at all a concern for anyone, if only M&S weren't so keen to develop the "World Flavours" lunchtime food range allowing you to take an appetizing international journey of taste without even leaving your desk. Problem is, this journey is so unpredictable, you don't always end up where you planned when you bought your food pack. In particular, you never end up in Greece.

The good bods at M&S, however, are blissfully unaware of this little detail. According to the press release, you can imagine yourself lunching on a sun soaked Greek island with "A taste of Greece" - a feta-style salad with houmous, falafel and sun-dried tomato breadsticks. Which is all well and good, only there's no such thing as feta-style salad, houmous and falafel are unknown in Greece, and sun-dried tomato breadsticks, although not exactly unheard of, are unlikely to be found on any sun soaked Greek island taverna, except for the really pretentious ones.

In any case, feta-style salad and fancy breadsticks I can accept. Houmous and falafel though? That's like putting together a "taste of USA" pack made up of Ploughman's sandwiches and Cornish pasties.

At first, I thought perhaps they're getting Greece mixed up with Cyprus (it wouldn't be the first time) but my Cypriot friends confirmed that, although houmous is indeed known in Cyprus, falafel is something that one would expect to find in Egypt, Lebanon or other Middle Eastern countries.

This begs the question: what is the purpose to taking two products that are nothing to do with Greece and putting them in Greek packaging, complete with Cycladic church? Surely anyone who likes houmous and falafel will eat them even if M&S calls them "houmous and falafel"? Not to mention anyone who's been to Greece is no more likely to associate the country with houmous and falafel than they are to associate it with chorizo and mozzarella.

Am I perhaps missing a great marketing strategy here? Is it a ploy to bring the Levant closer to Europe via the British taste bud? The mind boggles.

Last Saturday my friends and I went to the local M&S to search for this wonder product. Sure enough the Greece-in-Lebanon packs exist! We only found the mini-pack (sans feta-style salad and breadsticks) but our trip wasn't wasted. While looking around the shelves, we spotted another equally mind-blowing product: olives from Halkadiki.

What's wrong with that? I hear you ask. Well, what's wrong with it is that there's no such area called Halkadiki. The name is Halkidiki. And there are no alternative spellings either. Calling Halkidiki Halkadiki is like calling London Londin, or New York New Yark, or Sydney Sydnay. It's a huge, massive, stupid spelling mistake. We thought it was so funny that they'd misspelled the name of the product, we took a photo of the jar. The reason the photo is a bit blurred is because we couldn't stop laughing.

Then we looked at the lid. Which is supposed to say "olives with sun dried tomatoes" in Greek. Unfortunately it doesn't say that at all. It says "olives with sun wharmied tomatoes" - i.e. not only using the wrong word for "sun dried" but forming it wrongly too, against all grammatical and spelling rules. It's not just an unfortunate translation, it's a word that doesn't exist and couldn't ever exist. My guess is that it was made up by someone who'd studied Ancient Greek at college and had WAY TOO MUCH confidence in their ability to create new words in modern Greek.

Honestly, I can't decide which of these blunders I find more offensive: the Taste of Greece pack that seems to confuse Greece with Lebanon, the Halkadiki-spellchecker-fail olives jar, or the make-a-Greek-word lid! That M&S managed to make all three in just two products is so shocking one has to wonder if it was done on purpose.


Gattina said...

I can't complain about our M & S here in Brussels, but I had the joke in Athenes, where I ordered a "Greek salad" and got it with Mozarella !! During our 8 days lasting round trip through Greece (not the islands) we didn't have ONE time Greek food ! Fortunately I knew it from Brussels and Waterloo, lol !
Mr.G always gets angry when he sees what is offered as Italian food ! There are not a lot of restaurants with real good Italian kitchen. Mostly pasta and Spaghetti.
I hope to have nice weather next week because I will go to Eastbourne on the 10th and stay there a week.

Tinsie said...

LOL! Gattina, you are so funny :-)

It is possible to have tomato salad with mozzarella. "Greek salad" doesn't exist in Greece, any more than "Italian pizza" exists in Italy. If you ordered a horiatiki ("village salad", which is what's known as "Greek salad" outside Greece) you would have got the one with the tomato, cucumbers, pepper, olives and feta. Other than that, it's perfectly possible to have non-Greek food in Greece - pizza, spaghetti, burgers, chips are all very common and so are various types of salad.

The Greek food in Brussels is OK, not 100% authentic (Greek gyros is never made with beef!), but better than what passes for "Greek food" in the UK for sure.

Gattina said...

Now I had to come back because I don't have your email, lol so that's what I wrote
"You know it was written on the menu card and our greek guide didn't explain anything to us ! So we supposed to get the traditional good salad. Re the roundtrip food our guide took us to restaurants where we didn't get any greek food. She ordered for us. She was a very unfriendly person and we all complained about her. She didn't help us a bit. It's already difficult not to be able to read the street names, she didn't explain anything only the ruins ! But with history you can't move or eat.
In Waterloo we have one real nice Greek restaurant, the owners are Greeks and very proud not to have adapted to the Belgian food ! It has a lot of success btw ! Being a tourist in a country can sometimes be difficult, lol !
You are right, I go never back to a blog once I have commented on a post. I always answer comments by email.

Tinsie said...

Sounds as if your "guide" was pocketing commission from certain eateries. Naughty!

Never let people order for you, they make assumptions about that you like which are often incorrect. I bet she took you to places that did "international" food because it's similar to what you're used to, hence less complaints. Also probably more expensive, so a bigger commission for her.

I'd love to see photos of the food served in your fave Greek restaurant. Perhaps you could do a post next time you go :-)

Trotter said...

Hi Tinsie! WOW! that's a post like it should be... Damn M & S... Worse, only C & A... ;))

After an odd post, Blogtrotter Two has a bit of Catalonia in Sardinia... ;)
Take pleasure in it and have a stunning week ahead!

Karen said...

I think you need to send them the link to this post! They should hire you, Tinsie. You could propose that they send you to Greece to do research.

It really is ridiculous that (in this day and age) they have got it so completely wrong. Even I know that falafel isn't Greek!

I'm making horiatiki today. Properly, I might add!

Sandi said...

You MUST send them a complaint - you may get vouchers in lieu of any offence caused.

Shionge said...

We have M&S here but not as wide range as those in UK I must say.
I think it is like you say a 'strategic' because not many people get to travel to many other part of the world so there......

Jacob said...

I'm sorry but this is such a funny post I've been laughing for 3 minutes straight and now I'm so tired from laughing I think I'll have some of that stuff from Hakididkiaudu or wherever and take a nap!

Tinsie said...

@ Trotter: There's no C&A in the UK any more. Hasn't been for years!

@ Karen: Going to Greece to do research sounds like a job for me. And I might need an assistant, too ;-)

How did the horiatiki turn out?

@ Sandi: I can't find an email for them! I guess I could buy a pack, have a bite or two, and return it claiming "it didn't taste of Greece at all" haha!

@ Shionge: Yeah - easier to lie to those who don't know any better I guess. Still doesn't make it right.

@ Jacob: Uh-oh. That bad?!!