04 September 2017

Why has Lidl decided to
airbrush the timeless
scenery of Santorini?

The image of Santorini that Lidl does not want you to see on their supermarket shelves

Patrick Comerford

Santorini is unrivalled as the most photographed island in Greece.

It is the face of Greece to the rest of the world.

The island’s cubist white buildings, its pastel coloured doors and windows and the blue domes of its churches are the basic ingredients of picture-postcard Greece.

Those blue domes complement the blue skies and blue seas that decorate so many postcards, calendars, coasters, fridge magnets and CD albums that tourists bring home with them.

They are sometimes the first images that captivate potential visitors when they are dreaming about and planning a package holiday in Greece.

And when those tourists return home, these calendars and posters decorate their homes as a reminder to return again.

In the rectory in Askeaton, I have a number of prints of photographs by Georges Meis, whose work in Santorini is celebrated in so many of those calendars, posters and coffee table books. His exceptional photos of stunning Greek island scenery, especially Santorini, Mykonos and Crete, are easy to recognise and have been reproduced on thousands of postcards and other souvenirs sold throughout Greece. He captures the colours of Greece, particularly the blue domes, doors and windows and white walls in images that have become almost every tourist’s stereotypical image of Greece in the mind’s eye.

In Dublin, I have prints of two paintings by the artist Manolis Sivridakis that continue to remind me of all the sounds, sights, tastes, smells and thoughts of a sunny Sunday afternoon in Santorini almost 30 years ago.

The other ways lingering memories of a summer holiday on a Greek island holiday are brought back to life for the sentimental tourist include listening to those CDs – and finding Greek food on the supermarket shelves.

On an Irish site, Lidl invites shoppers with these tantalising words: ‘If you fancy noshing on some octopus or knocking back some Greek Ouzo this summer, bring the taste of Greece into your kitchen with the Lidl Eridanous range. Lidl’s Greek range is vibrant, fresh and full of flavour, and the Eridanous selection has everything you need for hosting the perfect Greek dining experience.’

Churches and domes without crosses ... airbrushed images of Santorini on my kitchen shelves and in my fridge (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

The Eridanous range in Lidl is packaged and marketed with those white cubist buildings and blue domes that instantly transport you back from the grey days of autumn in Ireland to the blue-and-white days of summer in Greece.

Prominent in all of those packaging images – on tins, bags and cardboard packages – is the dome of the Anastasis Church, the most photographed church and the most photographed building on the island of Santorini.

The problem, though, is that Lidl has airbrushed the cross from the dome of the church. It has eliminated all crosses and transformed the landscape of Santorini on its packaging, claiming it wants to remain ‘religiously neutral.’

Greek history, culture and landscape have been airbrushed away by the very people who claim they are marketing a taste of authentic Greek living.

The Eridanous range includes Greek olive oil, honey, moussaka, honey, yogurt, gyros, butter beans and pastry swirls, all on sale in their photo-shopped packaging in Lidl outlets in Ireland.

I was first altered to this story at the weekend by a Facebook posting by Damian Mac Con Uladh, an Irish journalist and colleague working in Corinth and Athens. He drew attention to a news report last Thursday on the website Keep Talking Greece, which covers Greek news in English, says these products are sold across Europe.

A German Lidl spokesman was reported as saying: ‘Our intention has never been to shock. We avoid the use of religious symbols on our packaging to maintain neutrality in all religions.’ Yet, religiously-neutral Lidl sells Halal meat products that feature minarets ... diversity and pluralism that we all ought to appreciate.

The German spokeswoman reportedly added: ‘If it has been perceived differently, we apologise to those who may have been shocked.’

In other words, in non-PR speak, Lidl believes the fault lies with false perceptions.

The people who are providing a perception of Santorini that is different from reality are the people who have airbrushed the landscape and history of Santorini.

Of course, I would prefer to buy real Greek yogurt rather than Greek-style yogurt. But could I buy it in real Greek packaging rather than imitation Greek-style packaging, please?