“You can’t cheat then?” she asked when Damien Corcoran, a regional manager for Sainsbury’s stores in the north east of England, showed her how to use one of the firm’s self-service tills. The 93-year-old monarch, who has never been able to go supermarket shopping like ordinary people, was shown the till when she visited a pop-up Sainsbury’s in Covent Garden, central London, to mark the chain’s 150th anniversary. Mr Corcoran, who is normally based in Newcastle, explained to her how shoppers put items from their baskets or trolleys on the scales, key in details, and normally pay with credit cards.
He told the Queen that many people liked the convenience of being able to do it themselves. “I’m sure they do,” the Queen said. “Everybody wants to hurry.”
Mr Corcoran also showed her how some shoppers now dispensed with tills altogether, choosing instead to pay via a mobile telephone app. “That’s an interesting tool,” his royal visitor replied.
Mr Corcoran, a former Captain in the Royal Signals, said that in his work for Sainsbury’s he generally found there were two types of customers: those who embraced new technology quickly and were keen to use it, and others who needed a bit more help from staff.
“I think if I had seen the Queen in one of my stores in the north east of England I would have made sure I had assisted her,” he said.
Queen Elizabeth: The monarch asked if it was possible not to pay for items
In her long life the head of state has visited supermarkets. She has been to Waitrose twice. The last time was in 2016 when she went to her son Prince Charles’s village Poundbury in Dorset.
But they along with most other visits to shops have been on official engagements when the public had been cleared out.
Off duty, she is sometimes thought to stop off in shops in Ballater near Balmoral when she is staying on her Scottish estate.
She once went for a walk around the duty free shops at an airport during a short stopover. But a trip to a big supermarket on a day off is probably out of reach for one of the world’s most famous women.
With an army of servants, she hardly ends to worry about getting the weekly supplies in anyway.
The Queen, who wore a muted jade Stewart Parvin A-line coat with a floral silk dress in shades of grey, jade and dusky pink and a Rachel Trevor-Morgan hat, was shown mock-ups of Sainsbury’s stores going back through the ages.
The Queen wore a muted jade Stewart Parvin A-line coat with a floral silk dress
I’m sure they do. Everybody wants to hurry
The pop-up store, only a few hundred yards from where Sainsbury’s first set up in business on a stall at 173 Drury Lane in 1869, is open all week for the company’s 150th celebrations and displays a potted history of the company’s part in Britain’s retail revolution.
During a half hour visit, the Queen saw a replica of the firm’s first delivery bike, used to take goods to customers in Croydon, south London, before seeing counters displaying the first three items the shops sold: butter, milk and eggs.
Beside one counter, Lord Sainsbury of Preston Candover, the company’s 91-year-old life president, and his wife Lady Anya, stood reminiscing with the Queen about ration books, which the company helped to introduce during the Second World War.
The Queen met staff at Sainsbury’s today
She remembered her ration book – “it was very small” – and told the Sainsburys how the Royal Family used to supplement their rations with eggs and cheese from the farm at Windsor.
“As a Sunday treat we had some sweeties. But we were lucky we had a farm,” the Queen said.
She was shown how tastes have changed since her Coronation when one Sainsbury’s staff member, Lynn Bennett, gave her a look at a typical shopping basket from 1953 and one from the present day.
One item that caught her eye from 1953 was an empty jar of bloater paste, a fish paste made from herring. “Ghastly,” the Queen said. “I was thinking the same,” Ms Bennett said. “Disgusting.”
The head of state seemed surprised by some of the items in the modern day shopping basket, which included fish pie and curry ready meals. When Ms Bennett showed her a packet of sachets of porridge and explained people liked the sachets, the Queen, who famously has her breakfast served in tupperware, said: “Porridge?”
She told Ms Bennett: “Tastes have changed.”
Before she left, she met a small selection of around 30 of Sainsbury’s 180,000 employees, including some of the 35,000 staff volunteering in their communities to celebrate the 150th anniversary, before unveiling a plaque and cutting a cake to mark the occasion.
Lord Sainsbury, who spent 27 years as chief executive, was delighted by the royal visit. “Obviously, it’s very flattering to the company in general. I am proud to say that what the company had contributed over the years makes it worth it.”
Recalling the company’s part in bringing in the retail revolution by replacing counter service with self-service supermarkets in 1950, he added: “I like to think we have deserved it.”