Supermarkets - and avoiding them

Posted on 1 February 2013 in Food and Drink, Shopping (No comments)

Depression "bread wars", corner store on Bourke & Fitzroy Streets, Surry Hills, Sydney, 21 August 1934 / Sam Hood

It is said that one in every eight pounds spent in shops in the UK, is spent in Tesco. That's 12½p out of every pound goes in to Tesco's tills. And that's just one supermarket. There's Sainsburys, Asda and Morrisons to consider as well.

Don't know about you, but I think that's scary and have done for a while. Supermarkets in general are dominating our lives. And they're spreading out like wildfire.

Within a two miles of my house can be found the following branches of the big four chains:

1 Sainsburys hypermarket (my nearest - a five minute walk away)
3 Sainsburys supermarkets
2 Sainsburys Local stores
1 Asda
2 Tesco Express stores
1 Tesco Metro
1 Morrisons supermarket

Those are the ones that I am aware of, and no doubt there are more. And to cap it all, Tesco have taken over a busy pub and are planning to use the building to open a second Tesco Metro which will be a whopping 0.1 mile away from the nearest Tesco Express (and just opposite a brand new Sainsburys Local.)

It's getting bonkers. So much so that a couple of years ago I pondered an idea where I'd give up on the supermarket for a short period of time - say three months. I wanted to know if it was possible, and how much I'd spend. Would I save money or spend more?

In a way it was an extension of what I am already doing. My fruit and veg comes fortnightly from the Organic Delivery Company; milk from the milkman. If I need a top up of veg there's some bits and pieces available at a farmers market stall at Abbey Mills market. There's an excellent off license with an amazing beer selection on Merton High Street, and I have a corner shop mere minutes from my house.

I was vaguely optimistic I'd save money. Before I got a milkman I'd end up going to Sainsburys on a weekly basis. After the milkman, I started going fortnightly. My monthly milk bill was about £12 yet suddenly my monthly credit card spend at Sainsburys went down by a whopping £60 a month. Now, true, I did start topping up a bit more at the corner shop, but my monthly corner shop and milk spend has never been anywhere remotely near £48. The difference astounded me. I had this strange feeling that if I stopped the supermarket completely, I'd probably save a lot.

As it was I never implemented the plan. The more I thought about it, the more difficult it seemed. Colliers Wood doesn't have a wide range of independent grocers, so it would mean travelling to Tooting, Mitcham, Morden or Wimbledon to stock up, and trawling round a huge range of shops just to get everything I wanted.

I don't have a car, and without a car it could be difficult carrying my shopping home all home, as well as taking up a lot of time. And there was just some stuff I just had no idea where I'd get it from. Whilst I'd be sorted on Asian and Polish food, there were no small shops or delis I knew of that would provide sliced ham, Dorset Cereals muesli or crème fraîche for example. Well other than Marks and Spencer, and that didn't seem to be in keeping with my idea.

So I made my excuses and quietly dropped the idea.

But I remembered it recently when thinking about online shopping. As I allude to above, we don't have a car. Shopping was a case of walking to Sainsbury's and carrying everything home. It may only be a five minute walk away, but add in some heavy, bulky stuff to carry and it can be a nightmare. With a baby having just arrived, it got even more difficult.

Online shopping seemed like a good idea, and in a way it gave me a chance to experiment more with the little guys. In this case, Ocado. Okay, it's not that little. But it's an underdog. It's not Sainsbury's; it's not Tesco. And its groceries come from Waitrose, part of the John Lewis Partnership, which is as an employee-owned cooperative, is an organisation I admire.

Each fortnight will see me open the door to a delivery driver, not trudge to my local supermarket empire. OK, it's not quite what I had in mind originally. But it's better than nothing. I'm going to couple it with an attempt to spend more with local traders too; those that remain anyway. Bottle of beer anyone?

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