I’M in the food hall of Jenners, on an important gift-buying mission. I flag down an assistant and pose my burning question.

“Do you have any marzipan?”

“Ah, now, we did have some over here … but I’m not sure if we still do.”

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I follow her past the tables of biscotti and nougat and toffee and other sub-standard confectionery gifts.

“No, sorry, we don’t have it. We do have some marzipan fruits behind the counter, but they’re sold by weight and they’re pretty heavy.”

A beat.

Another beat.

“May I see them?”

In the end, the alleged marzipan fruits were not fruits at all – more like lumpy blobs encrusted in vivid dark pink sugar. I didn’t ask how much they were. It seemed we’d already established I couldn’t afford them.

“You’ll have had your birthday marzipan,” I told my friend that evening as I handed over her card. Only joking – I found some eventually. But not before being reminded that even the briefest of shopping trips can involve subconscious snobbery. That even those whose job is to sell will make judgments about whether a customer – who might, theoretically, not have brushed her hair that day, or thought to pack an umbrella, or been literally well-heeled – has any money to spend.

The news this week that Scots have finally embraced supermarket own-brands – spending more on such goods than big-brand names for the first time this year – seems like an indication that we might be finally letting go of the idea that we are what we buy. Sure, some branded food products simply taste better, but many more are almost identical, or even made in the same factory. So there’s more to brand loyalty than rational consumer preference. It’s about status too. It’s about sending a message that we can afford the best, even if we can’t.

It’s worth bearing in mind that own-brand doesn’t always mean bargain-basement. The much-mocked Waitrose Essentials range – which includes such vital provisions as Thai sweet chilli-coated peanuts, granola traybake and baby avocados – is technically own-brand but a far cry from Asda’s Smart Price or Tesco’s Everyday Value. The presence of Waitrose crisps in a school lunchbox might be a more reliable determinant of socio-economic status than a packet of Walkers Oven Baked – which, after all, can be bought by any old riff-raff in Poundland these days.

It would be nice to think Scots are less hung up about brands than those in the rest of of the UK, but the evidence suggests the opposite is true, as our neighbours to the south switched their loyalty years ago. Evidence from the US has shown that the best-informed consumers (doctors, pharmacists, chefs) buy generic brands of medicine, salt and sugar, while the least clued-up opt for pricey big names. However, it would be wrong to think everyone has a free choice, or that those paying over the odds are simply stupid.

First, the cheapest own-brands and the best prices simply aren’t available to the poorest shoppers, who can’t access the biggest supermarkets or the smartphone apps required to bank bonus loyalty points. Secondly, while I needn’t concern myself with whether a Jenners assistant thinks I can afford to buy 1kg of marzipan lumps, that’s only because I’m lucky enough never to have experienced poverty.

Where I gained an anecdote, another shopper might have felt a sharp sting of shame. It may seem daft when people on tiny budgets buy branded food and drink, but you can’t put a price on pride, dignity, or indeed the simple pleasure of a sip of Irn-Bru.