“ Iceland branded franchise, operated by Overseas Foods in Spain „
Rising out of the dusty urban sprawl of the Spainish coastline are a new generation of shops, peculiar only because they are not on a trading estate in Lewisham or Bristol.
It wasn't like Spain didn't have supermarkets before all this development; there's Eroski and Mercadona and Consum. There's even a Spar on every corner if you want to pretend you're still in High Wycombe. But now, rising above the dusty strip just outside St Javier, is the huge, block letter, red and white sign proclaiming that Iceland has arrived.
I'm not one of these purists who think all countries must only have their own shops and that the homogenous British high street is a terrible thing. Yes, I love unique little shops and family enterprise, but when you're vegetarian in Spain, you can't afford to be quite so picky. There are only so many principles you can have. This is not going to be a review where I start moralising and telling you that everything can be brought fresh from your local market; the market is once a week and early in the morning - Iceland is big and shiny and open 7 days a week until 8pm. Maybe you moved to Spain for the weather and not for the culture or tradition or the food?
Hearing about this Mecca, The Boyfriend and I piled into the car along with his brother, Littlest Bruv. It didn't take long to get there, Spanish motorways in November being much like an empty Brands Hatch. Iceland is just off the AP-7 Motorway. Take exit 777 and head towards San Javier town centre; it's on your left (near a DFS Sofa Store) and very well signposted.
Pulling up in the car park, we stopped to look at the supermarket next door. Littlest Bruv told me that during the heavy rains, the flat roof of this particular shop had caved in and that broken glass and food were lying all over the place. Iceland, it seemed, had been miraculously saved by its 'British' style pitched roof.
On entering Iceland, you realise the only remotely Spanish thing is the little wheels and the handle fitted on the shopping baskets. The store, as it is in England, is mostly laid out in aisles of freezers, with chilled goods at the back and dry goods as you come in the entrance. We trotted up and down, marvelling at the Heinz Beans and Ketchup, the Salad Cream, the Old El Paso Dinner Kits. The whole lot, under one roof, from Kellogg's Cornflakes to Flora Margarine. It was downright weird to see the £ symbol stickers and English cooking instructions. I picked up Quorn Sausages for the Barbeque we had planned, then Quorn mince, chicken style pieces, some veggie burgers....might as well make the trip worthwhile.
What don't they have? They don't seem to carry English bread, just the Spanish Brands like Bimbo, but at twice the price of Mercadona, so you'd be better off buying that sort of thing almost anywhere else. Fresh milk was still a bit out of the question in the land of UHT. I stopped a member of staff and asked the impossible; did they have gluten free for The Boyfriend's step dad. Completely forgetting that we were in Spain at all, I asked this in English and she replied in English. Just like the products, all the staff seem to be imported from 'back home'. They didn't have the gluten free, but instead of regarding this with the horror the continent reserves for dietary requirements, she was apologetic and said she really didn't know why they didn't carry the whole range.
Happy with our shopping, we made our way to the checkout and were served by some teenager who no doubt grew up somewhere around Caversham. We used the Iceland branded bags and weren't charged 5 centimos for them. In total, we spent about 25 Euro for our shop. Spanish goods excluded, the prices were only 25% more than in Iceland back home. You'll hear people protest that this is expensive, but Iceland is so cheap to begin with that you're still looking at, for example, a prawn curry and rice for less than 2Euros.
The store is big and clean, the range of foods is fantastic and the staff were friendly and helpful. So, if you're heartily sick of salty tapas and all you want is Fish Fingers and then a Vienetta for pudding, this is the place for you. It was all very novel to Littlest Bruv, who grew up on a Spanish diet of fresh sea food, home killed goat and non-irradiated fruit and vegetables. By contrast it was emotional for The Boyfriend, who nearly wept on finding some super processed orange cheese.
Well, you can google all you like and not find a website for Iceland in Spain, because there isn't one. The store is owned and operated by Overseas Foods, using the Iceland franchise. There are further stores along the coast at Torrevieja, Mijas and San Pedro and a list of all the food they carry can be found at http://www.overseas.es/index.php.
However overdeveloped the Costas have become, this is only there because people want it to be.