Why Pão de Açúcar Should Watch Its Back

Those of you who live in Sao Paulo may know – the grocery store Pão de Açúar sucks. Not only have I periodically brought home items that turned out to be moldy, and purchased a magazine the other day only to find out it was more than 18 months old, but the place is dirty and the people who work there are most often rude.

Today I went to pick up a few items and got in the express line, in which you are limited to 15 items. There was only two of in line, and I noticed the other woman, ahead of me, staring at my basket. Whatever. Maybe she was hungry. But then, when she got to the checkout person, I got the impression that she was “telling on me” to one of the four people working in the express line. It turned out she was. Since I buy as little as possible there, I hadn’t bothered to count my items that sat in one of those mini-carts. But it dawned on me that the woman ahead of me HAD BEEN counting my items. So one of the FOUR people, the girl who checked out this citizen of justice, waved me down from her register and suggested that I remove myself from the express area. I was the only person in line.

So I did what any mature adult would do – a began to chuck items out of my basket (5 items at max) until I got to 15. And then I stared her down. Ok, not one of my best moments, but I’d had it with Pão de Açúcar.

The girl next to her, who had no idea what was happening, waved me over to check me out. I promptly asked her co-worker, the one who called me out, her name – which was Dayse. I explained to Dayse that it was no problem, I’ll buy less here and more somewhere else. The girl who was checking me out then noticed my pile of discarded items (some on the floor) and asked if I wanted her to pass them. I then explained the rule of 15 to my checkout girl.

Sure, I get it, rules are rules. But there was no one but me in line. Did everyone want to go on break? And this is Brazil for goodness sake – rules are being broken all around me with much more serious consequences. Personally, I think it was just laziness – plus the pressure from this strange other woman customer who was outraged at potential unfairness of my speedy purchase. I mean, where am I – Switzerland?

When we were living in Manhattan, we had a grocery store a block down from our building called Gristedes. The store cornered the market of our neighborhood – there really wasn’t another full-service grocery store close by. It was the same thing – things were dirty, you’d bring your items home only to find mold and the employees were out-of-this-world rude. The store was part of a NYC chain. All their stores were disgusting. But there were few alternatives.

Until Whole Foods came along. The day a Whole Foods opened up in our neighborhood, my entire life felt complete. Yes, they were more expensive. Yes it was farther than Gristedes. But they delivered! Then, Trader Joe’s hit Union Square and all was right in Manhattan.

Well guess who was the first to cry about the perils of small business vs big corporation. Yep, Gristedes. They gave interview upon interview of how a big, bad Whole Foods was going to shut down their iconic New York family business. Meanwhile, both Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s offered fresh food and friendly staff in a well-lit, clean environment. And in the case of Whole Food, people in NYC were more than happy to pay for quality and experience.

The grocery market of Sao Paulo is primed for some new competition. When it happens that a company can deliver a chain of food stores that offer good quality and a good experience, even if it is at a slightly higher price, I know who is going to be surprised.

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35 Responses to Why Pão de Açúcar Should Watch Its Back

  1. Kristin says:

    Hate PdA. Hate Carrefour more. Also Walmart. Love Pomar in my neighborhood and a small one called Lodetti’s. My new favorite: Natural da Terra in V. Mad. Won’t go anywhere else but there and the Mercado Municipal de Pinheiros.

  2. I think your reaction, while it may have been disturbing to you in hindsight, was actually just what the doctor ordered. They were being absurd, and weird shopper lady- MYOB! My teacher told me in first grade ‘Keep your eyes on your own desk.” Maybe teachers don’t say that here in Brasil?

    Now, on the other hand, I’m really sensitive to ‘Limited’ lanes, and will ask apologetically and count….unless I’m distracted.

    The chain we have here- Gonçalves- is nice, clean, polite- but we also like the small family-owned grocers that thrive here. Unlike in the USA, it seems the distributors do not give preferred pricing to bigger companies. The corner store is still alive, and well. And the meat they sell comes from 1 block away. LOCAL BABY!

  3. anna says:

    natural da terra is nice!
    you may find a store near you: http://www.naturaldaterra.com.br/www/lojas.html

  4. nina says:

    pda has the worst service I have waited over 20 minutes for a coffee and they didn’t understand the problem. SOOO rude too. however, they have stuff that I can’t find in other places. It’s getting like we now have one store with mushroom in paulinia, AMAZING. Sometimes, these kind of meltdowns may not do much for those targeted. honestly she was a witch, that’s probably never going to change. but your the one that rethinks and thinks, later decides what is better for you AND learns. I have been treated like crap and made to cry in grocery stores here because people think they have some power trip. Well, they don’t and being a control freak will never give them peace. It makes us realize who we are and what we want to be and what we don’t want to be. AND to not give crappy companies our money. God, I miss miss wholefoods, I really miss wholefoods. I don’t care what anyone says, it made me happy and life is short.

    • Good points. I miss Whole Foods too. It made me happy too. I went almost every day when I was back to visit. IS ANYONE FROM WHOLE FOODS LISTENING?? COME TO BRAZIL! MARKET OPPORTUNITY. We have a store called Santa Lucia, which is good, not great, more expensive than other grocery stores, and is packed almost every day.

      • nina says:

        I like this place fruiteira, so nice remains me of a little store in northside of milwaukee. Very chique and over priced. But the people are great and so is the quality. Plus lots of options but really doesn’t carry much processed stuff. But it keeps me eating healthy.

      • Erik says:

        Actually, we have found that Santa Lucia is cheaper than Pao de Acucar for basics. Yes, their imported stuff costs more, but hey, you won’t find it at dirty/rude/takes forever and ever to check out Pao de Acucar.

  5. Alex says:

    I would have done the same with chucking the food out of my basket. Only difference would be that I would throw it at the face of the bitch behind you. Seriously some people need to wake up and see real problems and not be nitpicky. There are sooo many people around here that do the same thing and i HATE IT. But I don’t follow rules very often so that’s probably why..

    Anyway, I commend you for your behavior 🙂

    And it would be nice if WholeFoods went to Brazil, but we currently have 1 supermarket for every 1 million people in the state of New Jersey, so I don’t see it happening very often. The closest one to me is in Princeton, like 20 miles away. You may be familiar with it, the one on Route 1? Didn’t you say you lived in Princeton? It’s the world’s most perfect town! THEY HAVE WHOLEFOODS and a lot of rich Indians.

    • I think Whole Foods came in just as we were leaving. But does Princeton still have Wegmens? It was kind of like a Whole Foods, but not quite up there – but still good. I wonder if they got pushed out…

      • Alex says:

        Yes, Wegmans is still here and they are GROWING! They just built one like 1 mile from my house. It’s nice but, very expensive and TOO BIG. I mean, they have like 50 rows. Plus, in my town there is nothing to do on the weekends so everyone just goes to Wegmans. That means all 20,000 people of the town are there. Try navigating THAT parking lot.

    • And just to clarify – the woman was in FRONT of me. It was only her and I and she was ahead of me in line! And then I was alone in line. If anyone had been behind me, I would have been more sensitive to the issue. But it was me and four employees!

  6. Danielle says:

    I had almost the exact same problem once, in Pão de Açucar. I think I even complained about it in my blog, too, because Ray gave me some good advice. Alexandre and I were in the store late at night buying wine or ice cream or something that you buy late at night, and there were 2 registers open: that special line for seniors and pregnant women, and then a regular line. There was one person in the regular line being rung up, and the cashier in the special line was just sitting there, staring. So I went up to her and started to put our things on the belt and I was like, “oh, can we just get rung up here?” I figured she’d say yes, since there was no one else in the store and since she wasn’t doing anything else. But she said no! I got irritated and I said, “oh, I’m so sorry, moça. How dare I ask you to work? I know you must not like doing that very much — ” but then Alexandre pulled me away. Ray told me that you don’t ask questions or give them an opportunity — you just put your shit on the belt, stare them down, and dare them to question you! In your case, you could’ve just said, “No. I am your customer and you need to ring these up. I’m not getting in the way of any other customers. I will report you to your manager for laziness.” Eh? Eh? I don’t know. Your system was pretty productive, too. But to finalize this rambling comment, I agree with Jennifer that I try to go to independent family markets (there’s this word “varejo” and another word, “horti fruti” to describe corner stores with produce and meats). Sometimes they’re a little more expensive, and you’ll still need to brave a supermarket for things like cleaning products, but I believe the quality and the service are better enough at the corner stores to make it worth the extra few reais. OK I’m done.

    • I think you hit the nail on the head. We have the same idea as Brazilian customers, but our execution is different. I swear, if my husband had walked into that line with 50 items, they might have mentioned it, but he would have done his Brazilian song and dance and it would have been OK. Well, I think it would have been OK with me too if it were for this customer that decided to call me out. Anyway, it’s like I’m trying to be Brazilian, in even small conservative ways, and my environment is rejecting me. HA!

      • I like Danielle’s advice via Ray! That’s the haughtiness I’m talking about! Someone told Carlos they couldn’t return something- hat it was an opened package, blah blah blah- and he stared ’em down and said “You will return this…..blah blah in fast Portuguese…because I am your customer, I have the receipt and that’s it.” It got returned.

  7. Tony says:

    I was in a PdA in Copacabana last year and an old man took a swing at a friend because we were erroneously (we’d had some drinks on the beach and were not paying attention) waiting on the idosos line. Again, no one in the store. It’s like PdA harbors all of the bad vibes that are seldom seen in Brazilians!
    I’m also a NYC transplant but live in a far more difficult area to procure US food—Brasilia. Where does one go to get real (not “tipo” de sadia) cheddar cheese? PdA is actually a bit cleaner and better managed in Plano Piloto, but WILDLY expensive. Extra is the Key Food of Brazil!

    • Yeah, I guess I shouldn’t complain too much because I have some other options here. NYC to Brasilia – how is that?

      • Tony says:

        Like going from Times Square to the farm!

        Brasilia has some astonishing architecture as well as people, accents and food from all regions of Brazil. But the simple fact is that it feels like the land that time forgot. Public transit is horrid and walking is not an option. I guess I’m just not much a suburbanite!

  8. Tiffany says:

    All these bad experiences in PdA are crazy to me (yours and several readers). In Ribeirao Preto PdA is SUPER NICE, great service, everything. It is the most American-like place around. How unfortunate that it isn’t as good elsewhere.

  9. Renato says:

    Wow! I can’t believe I missed this one. Ok, this is what I would do in this situation. Let’s say you have 18 or 23 items, whatever, you are slightly over the 15 items on that special lane. If there is no one else behind you and they are being stupid about it. Just ring 15 items, leave the rest on the shopping cart. Pay for the 15 items and then you start putting the rest of the groceries left on your shopping cart for her to ring. Pronto, problem solved, I love confusing these small minded people with their stupid little anal actions. 🙂

  10. Renato says:

    Just for the record, Brazilian cashiers are my single biggest source of frustration, and will most definitely be a huge up hill battle in the re-adaptation process upon our return. I know I will need a valium every time I go grocery shopping for the first six months… 😦

    • I know, me too. What’s up with the idea that you have to bag your own groceries in the express check out lane?! I got into it with a cashier who left my stuff on the belt for me to bag. I told her that I didn’t work there, she did. And she actually called one of the guys over to bag. Seriously?

      • Ray says:


        Carrefour started this stupid trend in the 80’s. I remember my mother getting irritated and avoiding Carrefour at all costs, and it seems like many other grocery stores have followed the same pathetic trend. But you can still find good customer service at grocery stores in Sao Paulo, not easy, but it can be done.
        Having said that, I almost strangled a Sao Paulo Walmart Supermarket cashier on my last day in Brazil, I had to control myself really well, she was really rude to me, and she was lucky I was in a hurry and didn’t take the time to have a conversation with her manager.
        You are right about one thing, there is a huge difference in customer service in grocery stores now opposed to 10 or 15 years ago in Sao Paulo.


        • I know. If my Portuguese was better, I’d be harassing manager. On Saturday, I got so angry I did get the managers info at my local PdeA. It’s sad, because every once in awhile you get someone nice, but it never makes up for the rotten.

  11. Rachel says:

    I totally count the items in the fast checkout. Sorry but I find it annoying when people bring in more. Rules are meant to be broken here but damn I hating waiting in Brazilian grocery stores. Of course I’d never tell on you! And if there wasn’t anyone else in line… well she was just being a bitch.

    I have NEVER seen anyone actually be asked to leave a line. Hell, teenagers stand in the elderly/pregnant line and people do nothing. You just happened to run into a group of people who really need to get laid

    • I know, I know. I get irritated when someone does it in front of me. But this one and only time I didn’t get out of the line because I had three extra items, there was no one behind me and four cashiers! I hate PdeA. However, a week later I saw them kick someone else out of the line too.

  12. Pingback: What’s Holding Brazil Back? | born again brazilian

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