There is a growing population of United Kingdom expatriates in Okotoks yearning for a taste of home, be it a bag of Bassett’s Jelly Babies or a package of Jammie Dogers.
Fortunately for them several businesses in the foothills are catering to this niche market. Businesses such as Sandul’s Pharmacy in Black Diamond and the newly launched ShoppeUKGoods.com know there are no substitutes for such things as Spotted Dick sponge cake or Worchester flavoured crisps. Similar foods found in Canada simply don’t taste the same leaving the Brits longing for their own version.
“Heinz Baked Beans taste completely different in Canada than in England,” said Tracy Hardy, who left England two years ago to move to Okotoks, “and Cadbury Dairy Milk, the one in England is sweeter.”
Hardy launched the home-based internet shopping website www.ShoppeUKGoods.com this fall to satisfy the growing expatriate community’s pangs for snacks from the United Kingdom (UK).
“I know there are a lot of us because when you go to the supermarket, every other voice you hear is English,” said Hardy. “I don’t know why we all came here, but we’re either in Okotoks or Cochrane.”
Hardy’s business is a newcomer on what has been a booming business catering to the UK crowd.
Sandul’s Pharmacy in Black Diamond has an aisle dedicated to British goods; Your Dollar Store With More in Okotoks carries British candies; and the Safeway in Okotoks carries Marmite – a brown, yeast-based spread eaten with bread.
Mike Harrison, who has lived in Okotoks through three decades but is originally from Cockney London, said the fact you can buy Marmite at Safeway adds to Okotoks’ charms. As a matter of fact, if he couldn’t get Marmite here, he’d have to move, he said.
“I’m addicted,” he said. “A year or so ago Safeway decided they weren’t going to carry it anymore and there was almost a riot. They were inundated with complaints from Brits.”
People either love Marmite or hate it, Harrison said. For those who love it, discovering a source of Marmite can be life-changing.
Rose Sandul has witnessed that kind of joy.
She has seen expatriates find treats they used to have when they were children, sitting on the Sandul’s Pharmacy shelves in Black Diamond.
When they find such things as Twiglets, which are wheat-based chips with a yeast-extract flavour similar to Marmite, they are overjoyed and often quickly call their friends to tell them about what treasure they have found.
“People are so excited, they get on their cell phones and phone friends and relatives and say, ‘Did you know you can get this here?’” said Sandul. “It’s a really neat feeling and we get to see them month after month as they come to pick up some more.”
Sandul was born in Ireland and moved to Canada at age eight, so she knows first hand what it’s like to yearn for treats from the UK.
But not every treat.
“People like Twiglets and they taste terrible,” said Sandul. “Twiglets have a Marmite taste to them, so people either love them or hate them.
“And pickled walnuts, I’ve opened a jar myself – they look like little brains. I wouldn’t eat them.”
Other treats will satisfy the Brits’ hankerings and appeal to Canadian palates, too. Treats such as Cadbury’s Dairy Milk chocolate bar, which tastes significantly different than the version made in Canada.
“I think they put a lot more sugar and a lot more cream in – I think that’s why it tastes so good,” said Sandul.
English expatriate Dean Hudson has noticed the difference and it is a powerful difference. So much so he has spent “a fortune” on having friends and family bring chocolate and other goodies over to Canada when they come to visit.
“My dad comes over here twice per year for three weeks at a time and he leaves his clothes here and fills his suitcase with Galaxy Double Deckers and Cadbury’s Milk Buttons,” said Hudson.
With local businesses catering to his fancy, and family members following the Hudsons to Okotoks, the UK doesn’t hold much of a draw anymore.
“I won’t be going back again,” said Hudson. “There’s nothing there for me, apart from the chocolate. And the soccer.”
Published December 15, 2010 in the Okotoks Western Wheel.