Thursday 18 August 2011

The Remarkable Supermarket Boycott

Regular readers might remember this article  about cooking on a really low budget. What started as a gentle swipe at London journos astonished that anyone could feed a family of four for £50 a week, took on a life of it's own in the comments thread.

As you all shared your tips and hints, it became both heartbreaking and inspiring.

My dissatisfaction with the supermarkets rumbled on. Rice that went from 89p to £1.39 in a week. Chocolate cookie treats that the boys love suddenly sneering down at me for £1.79!! Tomatoes and courgettes stubbornly clinging to their eye-watering price tags despite a plentiful summer glut. It felt like a weekly mugging, I rarely came away satisfied with my purchases and found the acres of shelves stretching as far as the eye could see beyond my spoonie limitations more often than not.

Why? Tell me someone, why do I need 7 types of tinned tomatoes to choose from? 28 brands of sausages? Yoghurts have now clearly mutated beyond manageable levels to reach an out of control epidemic of soured milk products. How can there be a cheese aisle? A good deli would manage with a small counter and somehow offer me much, much more choice? Flummoxing is what it all is.

Well, a few weeks ago, I thought I'd try a experiment. I took down all the prices of fruit and veg at the local supermarket, then toddled off to a farm shop with the boys, clutching my comparison chart like some kind of weirdly obsessive mystery shopper. I live in Sussex remember, but I thought if the prices weren't too much more, perhaps I could stretch things enough for it not to matter.

The farm shop sits at the corner of our local Pick Your Own farm and the boys and I love nothing more than scrumping pro-dooce when Mummy has the spoons. They run a tractor all day, trundling from field to field stopping to pick us up on a trailer, so actually, it can be quite a good spoonie day out. Every time it all gets too much, we just hop on the tractor until I recover, the boys unaware that anything's even wrong. I can't get stranded in the top field or stuck in the strawberry patch.

Anyway, the point is, the farm shop is crammed with scrumminess, all covered in mud that has been plucked from the earth just a few 100 yards away. And guess what?? It was cheaper than the supermarket on every single item!! I was beyond surprised! I know it should have been cheaper with fewer overheads and no middle man, but this is Sussex! We pay a Hessian tax and a lentil tax for anything even vaguely natural. Enormously pleased with myself I stocked up for the week and felt like, somehow, I'd done a good thing.

Encouraged, I decided to do the same with meat. My parents have lived close to a very good farm-butcher all of my life and over the last decade they've expanded their stock to cover almost everything you can think of. Dried goods that you can buy like pick 'n' mix, frozen fruit for pies and smoothies, a very good frozen fish section, a deli with home cooked hams and yummy cheeses and fresh baked bread.

I was utterly astonished to find that the meat too was either cheaper than the supermarkets or just a few pence more per kilo! Seriously, I didn't stop telling people about it all week! Lamb chops in the supermarket = £16 per kilo, Lamb chops in farm shop £9 per kilo!! The nice butcher even said he would keep me a breast of lamb every fortnight and not charge me Fearnley-Whittingstall type prices!

Now, I know this wouldn't suit everyone and most spoonies would not be able to go to two separate farm shops every week, but if it's viable, I urge you all to check it out! Less packaging, far fewer chemicals, local food, yummy flavours (quite different in almost every respect to anything I could buy at a supermarket) AND not the preserve of the more affluent it seems!

I'll let you know how it's going in a few weeks - my cunning plans often come to nothing for some obscure reason I've failed to consider, but all being well, I can start to poke my tongue out at supermarkets whenever I pass their hulking cathedrals of neon and plastic.


  1. for starters. Other websites are available

  2. I heard on Farming Today recently that more and more farmers are pulling out of their supermarket contracts and going it alone as they are fed up of being bullied by the supermarkets who tell them at the last minute they are putting their strawberries on special as a 2 for 1 so the farmer only gets paid for one punnet out of two and if they go public and complain, they'll face reprisals next time round from the supermarket buyer.
    I can avoid them as I'm lucky enough to be able-bodied to grow my own.

  3. I agree with you 100%, I started doing this a while ago and I bang on about it ad nauseam and drive my friends and family mad, I'm thrilled to find someone else who feels the same! (And I'm in Cambridge so you would have thought we'd have the hessian and lentil tax too!).

  4. I'm amazed that (given your health and family responsibilities) you don't use a delivery service. They aren't really that expensive and save so many 'spoons'!

    An Ocado delivery pass costs about £100 a year (but they do reduced offers on it sometimes) and for that you get as many deliveries as you want.

    I plan to never again have to try to lift a bag of groceries.

  5. You didn't mention the worst part of the price hikes - the fact that the supermarkets actually boast about the new prices! When French loaves leapt from 25p to 28p, Sainsbury's celebrated the 12% price rise by putting up a sign saying "28p - the same as Tesco"! And don't get me started on the state of their toilets!

    I don't do meat or other animal products, but definitely feel inspired to make more of an effort re the local farmers' market.

  6. If only I had my health back I would love to go off grid completely and grow my own and be as self-sufficient as possible.

  7. This is very interesting, I share your supermarket fury. The local shops and farm shops are certainly WAY cheaper for the seasonaly produce and always make for a more rewarding shopping trip than the supermarket. Inspiring ideas here.

  8. I live in that London, and am lucky enough to have two greengrocers - one of which is open in the evening - yards from my front door, and a fantastic fruit and veg stall outside my tube station. Great fishmongers too. All cheaper and better than the supermarkets. Critical mass of people walking past I guess.

    Tragically the two butchers have seen the local yummy mummies coming and charge way more than the supermarkets for (admittedly good quality) meat. But it is very nice to smugly not buy supermarket fruit and veg. Although when I've not been able to leave the house before 9 pm, the supermarkets suddenly seem very welcoming!

  9. We can no longer afford to do a regular shop, and now buy as we need. We don't have farmers' shops nearby. We do the next best thing, and visit the cheap shops - Home Bargains, Cool Trader, pound shops. Not ideal, but a huge help.