I have been watching the activities of the hard discounters - Aldi, Lidl and Netto - with mixed emotions. A few years back, catalysed by a friend who enthused over his spectacularly cheap purchase of extra virgin olive oil, I popped into a Lidl. I emerged without anything, having had one of the most depressing shopping trips of my life.
Recently, the chorus of voices commending Lidl has strengthened. One person was raving about its 70% cocoa solids chocolate, which she insisted made excellent brownies at half the usual cost.
Another extolled its Turkish figs, only 19p a throw, which she likes served with the chain's smoked Black Forest ham.
Yet another acquaintance can't stop checking out Lidl's bizarre and random themed bargain events on everything from horse riding equipment through cycling gear to power tools.
A devotee of small shops and my weekly farmer's market, I remained cynical but resolved to check it out again. Much to my surprise, Lidl's seemed to have picked up. It felt like moving abroad. The aisles were busy with an eclectic mix of people, lots of Poles, many Africans, Italians and French.
Unlike the Tescos and Waitroses of the world, which are segregated along class lines, British shoppers from all backgrounds were represented. It still stocked many lines that I would never consider eating- bright pink meaty things in jars - but the produce section had improved immeasurably, with many British-grown lines in evidence.
I was about to acknowledge grudgingly that Lidl may have a thing or two going for it when I realised that it was selling all its fruit and vegetables at half price for the month of October. Now that is impressive. Unlike the major multiples, who like to tie consumers in knots with inscrutable labels on processed foods proclaiming them to be Lo-Cal, Healthy Eating or some such red herring nonsense, this German chain was helping people to eat better using a brilliantly simple strategy. It should put other supermarkets to shame. If Lidl can do it, why can't they ?
I still won't shop at Lidl regularly because I am one of those strange people who will actually pay more in order to keep independent shops in business. But Lidl has done us all a favour by showing up the big supermarkets as the pricey shopping places they are.