WALKING into Russian supermarket chain Mere’s first UK shop in Preston the starkness of its bare warehouse-style store shocked me.
The walls are grey and yellow breezeblock and there’s no branding, decoration or even any shelves inside – it’s completely back to basics.
The products are stacked up in factory packaging, making it look more like a stockroom than a supermarket.
The shop was clean and tidy – but it’s more like Costco than Aldi or Lidl.
It doesn’t have everything you’d need to do a weekly supermarket shop either as it was missing everyday staples like milk, eggs and bread.
There’s no fresh fruit or veg and the choice of store cupboard essentials like pasta and rice are very limited.
What they do have in stock, though, is very cheap.
The Russian chain, which has more UK stores in the pipeline including in Castleford, West Yorks, Mold, North Wales, and Caldicot, South Wales, has claimed to be 30% cheaper than Aldi or Lidl.
We compared an average basket of Mere with equivalent products at Aldi and found that it was significantly cheaper overall.
Some food products, like the 69p instant noodles, are actually more expensive than Mere’s main competitors – Aldi’s version is just 22p.
But most items were cheaper and the bulk of the savings were found in the home section.
A 400g bag of pasta is 23p at Mere and Aldi’s cheapest penne is 29p for 500g.
Rice is cheaper at Mere, where you can pick up a 1kg bag of extra long basmati rice for £1.15 compared to £1.29 at the rival discount store.
In total, our basket at Mere was 35% cheaper than similar items from Aldi.
So, there are bargains to be found, but the chain isn’t quite up to the task of taking on the German discounters in the UK yet.
If you come to Mere armed with a list, you’ll probably leave disappointed and without most of the things you came for.
In comparison, Aldi and Lidl are much more similar to the biggest UK supermarkets Asda, Morrisons, Tesco and Sainsbury’s.
But you can come into Mere for a browse and snap up a bargain if you’re not looking for a huge variety of brands to choose from.
I thought it was a good place to bulk buy on household essentials as there were good deals on toilet roll, Fairy washing up liquid and fabric conditioner.
The shoppers I spoke to agreed.
Mohammed Wasim, 31, from Blackburn, said: “I thought they would have more of a variety of stuff to be honest, because obviously they don’t have any bread, or milk, basic stuff really.
“But the stuff they do have is good, quite cheap and I’m looking forward to how it’s going to go ahead – maybe they’ll get more lines of stock.
“It seems good, nice and clean and the staff are nice.”
Mohammed, who said his family usually shop at Aldi, added: “We’ll probably come again. If they get more stuff and you can get a full shop from here then we might switch.”
Lauma Veise, 20, was shopping with her family yesterday.
The student said: “Everything seems quite cheap but the only thing is there’s not alot of food to choose from.
“We’d come back here to shop for some things though, like toilet roll.”
Georgia, 23, a student, said: “I thought there would be more products stocked to be honest, but I liked the fact that it is very, very cheap.
“I feel like if I lived really close I’d come back, but there aren’t as many products as I thought there would be.”
Aldi and Lidl have become popular for their non-food items.
You never know what you’re going to get in the middle aisle, one week it could be a wetsuit and the next a power drill.
The supermarkets’ most popular products- such as Aldi’s hanging egg chair – repeatedly sell out in minutes when they land online.
You can’t shop online with Mere, but they do have a middle aisle with a selection of random deals.
When I visited on Monday, three days after the store opened, there was a cute ladybird rucksack for kids for just £1.20 and a BBQ fork for 65p.
There was a bargain bucket of DVDs, which will be outdated for many but could be handy for some families
It was fun to browse what was in stock but I doubt shoppers will get too excited by the middle aisle offering at Mere.
While it is cheap, the supermarket still needs to up its game if it wants to take on the competition.
As it is, shoppers can pop down the road to a store that offers them everything they need under one roof.