Ah, Lidl. Known for its controversial leaflets, sporadic inventory, and best of all cheap prices, I was introduced to this grocery store in my first week in Prague. Having been to other “potraviny” stores such as Tesco, Albert, and Billa (there is no shortage for food shopping here), I noticed something was definitely different about Lidl besides the low prices, and that was the type of person shopping there. With over half a million fans on their Czech Republic based Facebook page, it is no surprise there is quite the young shopper base and it helps they are so affordable as well. Think Walmart with more of Trader Joe’s age demographic. In comparison, Tesco — one of the largest hypermarkets in all of Europe — has only over 300,000, Albert has 119,000, and Billa has under 170,000. The numbers speak for themselves, but it begs the question why? Lidl is neither cool, high end, exclusive, or even better than the rest of these supermarkets, and yet they have garnered the attention and affection of 10% of the Czech Facebook population: why?
This fascinating phenomenon is most likely due to that controversial leaflet mentioned in the beginning: in the beginning of 2017, a leaflet was sent to the home of every Czech citizen which to the average person looks normal, painfully boring even. It was a few flips in when emotions began stirring and blood boiling — the German company had featured a black model in their advertisement. Madness! Of course, I am being sarcastic, but the uproar it caused within the country was unfortunately not any shade of humorous.
This erupted on social media and, due to the ironically faceless nature of Facebook, allowed people to send hate to the company and revealed what is perhaps the ugliest side of this beautiful culture. The model was featured in the fashion section of the leaflet, modeling sportswear that was advertised as “urban.” Surprisingly, but probably only to those not familiar with Czech society, it was a political leader who was the most vocal about his outrage. Vítězslav Novák, Prague chairman of the SPD (Svoboda a přímá demokraci) party wrote on Facebook, “From the leaflet in the Czech Republic we can expect typical Czech not multi-cultural imports.” From there, the hate and racist comments came flooding in, and Lidl was faced with the reality of its Czech shoppers. It quickly responded, and here is where the story changes, by writing, “We are in Europe in the 21st century, where there are different races. And because Lidl can also be found throughout Europe, we see differences. The more you know how the world is, the more tolerance towards others you have. This is why our models are from all corners of the world.” This beautiful sentiment was felt not only by the clear half million of fans on Facebook, but by the Czech Human Rights Minister who jokingly added to his Facebook page that he would be doing some of his shopping in Lidl from then on.
Social media in the Czech Republic is a hotbed for hatred and racism, but with companies such as Lidl, and men such as Jan Chvojka, standing up to the blatant wrongdoings, I only see a brighter future ahead. I believe the proof is in the numbers — Lidl is leading every other grocer by at least 200,000 fans on Facebook, and that has to mean something.