SUPERMARKETS CATCH ON IN SOUTHERN CHINA
On a bustling Canton street, glass doors emblazoned with slogans like ''Our Service Is No. 1'' lure shoppers into an air-conditioned Aladdin's cave of plenty.
It's a supermarket, China's latest middle-class attraction, where Campbell's soup and Perrier water vie for space with bags of rice and jars of Chinese pickles.
China's plunge into capitalism has created an enticing alternative to the old Communist-style state stores, infamous for their sullen clerks snapping ''mei you'' (''haven't got it'') even when ''it'' is stacked up behind them in abundance.
The new stores offer what Western shoppers take for granted, but what is still relatively novel in China: air-conditioning, bright lighting, and the unimpeded right to choose goodies from the shelves.
Even old-style stores now must offer better goods and nicer clerks. They are setting up self-serve aisles, too, at least for canned and dry goods.
''The fast-growing economy has boosted general purchasing power,'' says Liu Zhanpeng, general manager of the government-owned Tian Mei group. ''People not only buy large quantities, they also demand a nice shopping environment. ''Tian Mei group set up the first of its 10 supermarkets in Canton in 1992. ''Our prices are a bit more expensive,'' Mr. Liu says, ''but we have a better reputation, and quality is guaranteed.''
Janny Yang, a shopper emerging from a Tian Mei store laden with plastic bags of groceries, says: ''They've got almost everything. It saves me having to shop around.''
Cylinders of Pringles potato chips stand beside bottles of locally made soy sauce. Refrigerated counters offer dim sum alongside California ice cream.
Still, Ms. Yang complains that the shopping carts are too small and the store assistants too numerous. ''It's as though I'm always under tight surveillance,'' she says.
As the hub of the Pearl Delta, China's fastest-growing region, Canton is an obvious place to be pioneering supermarkets - 150 of them so far, of which one-third are less than one year old, according to the Hong Kong-based Survey Research China (SRC).
In many Chinese cities, better traffic flow means shoppers can travel to supermarkets instead of depending on corner shops, says Stephen Watt of SRC. So ''one very likely and natural development will be toward fewer but larger stores.''