Shopping for groceries on this island is really an entertaining experience. In Mauritius what you buy one week, may or may not be on the store shelves the next week. It all depends on what ships make it past the pirates, the storms and the political unrest.
Our container of personal goods, for example, was delayed by almost two weeks because it just happened to have made a trans-shipment stop in South Africa during a time of unrest. There were riots near the port and so the port was shut down until things settled down.
I don’t know if it’s because I’m paying more attention now or if it’s because my island work experiences had me touring and working in some of the warehouses in the Freeport area, but how a grocery store stocks its shelves is really rather interesting business.
In the beginning the whole grocery shopping experience here gave way to my familiar expat word of newness – frustrating. I just could not comprehend how from week to week the same dishwashing soap would not be on the shelves.
At first, it would be the same brand, but not the same scent. This I could maybe understand. The buyer wasn’t indicating a particular scent when placing the re-order, only the brand. So, the supplier was just sending whatever scent they had a maximum stock of sitting in the warehouse.
But then the same brand would suddenly not be there. In it’s place would be some totally new brand that had never been on the store shelves before. So, I would have a mini-yankee-freak-out and reluctantly put the new brand in my cart.
And just as I was adjusting to the new brand and wondering to myself if there really is a difference, the old brand would reappear and the other one would be gone. What was going on with the re-order situation?!
Do the grocery stores not have any control over what imports they are actually selling? Was the buyer not indicating brand, quantity or scent when placing a re-order? Did the process simple involve ticking a box on a form that said ‘we need more dishwashing soap’? I mean, this kind of thing would never happen at a major grocery retailer back in the States, right?
Shopping for cheese has become a real hunt-n-seek and checking out the dairy case with other cheese-loving expats can get a bit tense. Is that marcapone that was there two weeks ago still there? No. It’s been replaced by Stilton. Interesting replacement choice.
And as with any new expat experience, you get used to it. And I did. But, recently things have really started to change.
Mauritius is an island located in the Indian Ocean. We are surrounded by salty sea water. There are sea salt drying factories located on the island and the Indian Ocean sea salt produced here is great. If there was one product that I could always count on being there, it was the locally made sea salt.
However, a month or two ago I noticed that the two shelves in the spice aisle that normally hold the local sea salt were not full of the local product. Instead, there was one shelf with the local sea salt and one shelf with boxes of sea salt imported from China. Huh. As I was wheeling my cart around the store, I was pondering the potential situations that could have led to this event.
Maybe a container had arrived from China and there were some bonus boxes of sea salt thrown in like a free gift? Maybe the Indian Ocean was becoming less salty and a ban to conserve sea salt was in force? Or maybe some import/export situation had occurred and all the Mauritian sea salt was being exported? Could the Chinese sea salt actually be cheaper as an import than locally produced sea salt from an island nation surrounded by salty sea?
Who knows, but other people were looking at those boxes and scratching their heads, too. And just today I noticed that there are now no boxes of local sea salt on the shelves. The only salt available for purchase is imported. The grocery shopping excitement continues.