For me 2023 has been all about switching to supermarket-free shopping.
It’s been a rewarding and interesting year.
Why give up supermarket shopping?
Isn’t supermarket free shopping expensive?
How do you give up the supermarket habit?
Looking for supermarket-free tips?
Did we really avoid supermarkets for a whole year?
Why give up supermarket shopping?
I didn’t go supermarket free because I was looking for cheap food (I always am), nor because I think there are already too many UK supermarkets near me (I do), and not even because I believe in the importance of ethical shopping from local people (I do).
I stopped shopping in big supermarkets because these giants are making huge profits at the expense of our struggling farmers.
How are supermarkets unfair to our farmers?
Here are some of the unfair practices that are common experiences for farmers dealing with supermarkets.
- Supermarkets don’t farmers pay on time
- They cancel or change orders at the last minute
- They slash prices after a crop has been sown
- They make unreasonable specification demands
- They pay small and take huge profit
Things have got so bad for our farming communities that nearly half (49%) oF British fruit and vegetable farmers say they’re likely to go out of business in the next 12 months.
My conscience won’t let me be in any way involved in that.
Isn’t supermarket-free shopping expensive?
Throughout my supermarket-free year, this is the question I’ve been asked the most, and one of the two main reasons people don’t think ditching the supermarket is for them (the other is time, which I’ll touch on later).
Cheap food is a myth fed to us by supermarket marketing.
I don’t have much spare money and I definitely don’t want what I do spend on food to go into the pockets of shareholders at the expense of our farming communities.
So I opted out and made 2023 a supermarket-free year.
And I’m here to tell you how well it’s gone.
- It hasn’t always been easy
- It hasn’t always been perfect
- It hasn’t always been how I thought it would be
But supermarket-free shopping has helped us eat more sustainably, support more local people, and learn a whole range of new skills.
Dumping the supermarket trolley has also SAVED US MONEY!
I know! A surprise to me too! We spent less on food shopping in 2023 than we did in 2022.
And that’s with an average food inflation rate of 10.3% (year to October 2023, ONS).
Surely supermarket food is affordable food?
Well yes. And no.
Supermarkets drive prices of key items like milk, bread and chicken down to attract shoppers but they do this at the expense of our farmers and often our eco-systems.
To compensate for lower prices on key items, the supermarkets take cheap fresh ingredients and turn them into expensive ultra-processed food.
Here’s an example:
To go with tonight's pasta I could buy a 500g jar of Tesco Smooth Bolognese Sauce for £0.95. It might sound like a bargain but this sauce only has 170g of actual tomato in it. My supermarket-free choice would be 500g of loose tomatoes from my local veg wholesaler at £1.45). I would cook it down in the slow cooker (to save energy costs) with foraged or garden herbs and onions. It would give me two meals-worth of pasta sauce. My home-cooked pasta sauce would have a far higher percentage of tomato and cost only £0.72 a meal. It would be even cheaper if I used my home-grown tomatoes.
So is supermarket comparison a waste of time?
I think so.
If you’re looking for food bargains, it’s time to stop looking for the cheapest supermarket, stop wondering if Aldi or Lidl is cheaper, and stop that weekly big supermarket shop.
Whether you’re looking at Tesco potatoes or Lidl prices for milk, when you compare supermarket prices, you’ll be able to find some cheaper items; that’s how they get you to keep shopping. But it’s always worth asking yourself the question,
‘How did they get that price so low?’
They did it first and foremost by treating their supermarket suppliers (farmers and growers) unfairly. But they also did it by…
- Charging you more for other items
- Encouraging you to buy more than you need
- Placing high-profit items at eye level
- Forceful marketing on low nutrition, high packaging, high price items (for example Christmas party food)
If you would like to find out how we ditched the supermarket trolley and found ourselves with a much happier, healthier way of shopping, as well as more affordable foods, read on.
How do you give up the supermarket habit?
Giving up supermarket shopping is a big thing to do.
But we’ve just proved it isn’t impossible.
As well as the cost of cost of alternative methods of shopping, most people are worried about the amount of time sourcing food in alternative ways will take.
I know I was.
But we have so many shopping options available these days that supermarket free life doesn’t have to mean daily trips to the local shops. What works for us won’t necessarily be the best for you but it may well be a good starting point.
I have loads of ideas about supermarket-free shopping to share (and I intend to write plenty more on the topic) but if you’re thinking of ditching the supermarket yourself soon, here are my five top tips to help you get you started on your supermarket-free journey.
SUPERMARKET-FREE TIP NUMBER ONE
1. Don’t try to change everything at once.
Before we started our supermarket-free year, we had already changed some of our food-shopping habits.
- Mr D had started his sourdough microbakery in 2019 so we had our own bread.
- We had decided during lockdown not to buy any cakes or biscuits but bake our own instead.
- We had already switched to Devon Fresh (a local business supplier) for our vegetables.
- I had already started growing my own veg and foraging for other edibles.
SUPERMARKET-FREE TIP NUMBER TWO
2. Use delivery services but not too often.
Calling in at local shops is always a pleasure. I love to chat and I always leave them feeling good.
But like so many people, I live a full and busy life. So over my supermarket-free year I developed a shopping system, which balanced traditional high street shopping and online deliveries.
At the start of each month I do two main online orders (easy for anyone to do).
- Wholefoods (rice, pulses, grains, seeds etc) and basics like pasta, from an wholefood retailer.
- Vegetables (some local) and meat (all local) from a local food wholesaler (they started delivering to domestic customers during lock-down).
We also use a milk delivery service (three days a week) for Devon milk, eggs, cheese and other dairy items.
SUPERMARKET-FREE TIP NUMBER THREE
3. Grow and forage what you can.
This might sound challenging to you but it’s the element of my year I’ve enjoyed the most because I’ve had to learn new skills. There are great advice sources available online, fantastic social media communities and some marvellous books about. It’s been like going back to school but that’s okay because…
I love learning!
My garden faces north so it isn’t the most productive but I am learning new methods (like permaculture and food forest gardening) that are helping me to make the most of what I have.
For example, I didn't try to grow beans this year because the slugs like them so much but I did grow lots more tomatoes and I have a wide range of herbs, which make almost anything taste delicious. I am also in the process of rearranging my garden to maximise what light I do have available and planting more trees to improve the soil and increase my fruit yield.
I’m also learning more about foraging. There are so many plants in our fields and hedgerows that can supplement a meal. And many of them are easy to find and identify.
My favourite (and easiest) foraged meal is wild garlic pesto but so far, I have shied away from foraging for mushrooms.
SUPERMARKET-FREE TIP NUMBER FOUR
4. Do as much home cooking as you can.
Improved health, less dependency on supermarkets, more control over what you eat; the reasons for choosing home cooking over ultra-processed food are many but if you didn’t see people cook as a child or if you work long hours, the prospect of home cooking can be daunting.
My advice here would be to start small.
Perhaps you could start your home-cooking career just one day a week, picking a day when you have more time, or when there are less people to feed. And if you are already doing lots of home cooking, make sure you have a day off once in a while. We have ‘easy’ food on Fridays. Often Mr D will make pizzas but we also visit our favourite local fish and chip shop or prepare dips to eat with homemade flatbreads.
My second-hand slow cooker has really helped me with my home cooking.
Bought on a whim from Facebook Marketplace, this £25 gadget has cooked me any number of delicious dinners and puddings with minimal time input and no burned food when I get distracted by work. All I need to do is find a recipe (there are so many online), shove a lot of ingredients in the pot, and enjoy the aroma of a satisfying family dinner creeping upstairs towards me as the day goes on.
Plus, I finally learned how to make pastry!
To be honest I’ve been trying for years. Pies are such a satisfying and tasty way of producing a good meal with the minimum of ingredients. I finally found the answer to my pastry woes in a BBC Good Food recipe (their recipes are the most reliable I’ve found). Although my cheese and potato pie will never rival my mum’s, I’ve noticed appreciative noises coming from my hungry eaters.
I’ve also started using a recipe app.
I’m not generally an app gatherer but my Whisk app is brilliant (now Samsung Food). It allows me to collect recipes from all over the internet and store them to use again with a couple of clicks. I’ve even used it to type in my friend’s ginger cake recipe and my mum’s salad cream recipe (when you don’t shop at supermarkets, you learn to make your own salad dressings).
SUPERMARKET-FREE TIP NUMBER FIVE
5. Be flexible and creative.
This tip is all about letting go of some of your preconceived ideas. We’ve all been doing things the same way for a long time but change is possible. The basis for my newfound flexibility is simple.
I’ve learned to work with what I have available (and can afford).
I once thought about writing a book called ‘The Anti-Recipe Book’. Not because I don’t like recipes (I love them) but because they can be quite demanding about the ingredients you need.
Which used to inevitably lead to a supermarket trip.
To make supermarket-free shopping work, we’ve had to move away from the quick-fix shopping list. We work much more with what we have, and we use a lot less of ingredients like cheese and meat, that are more expensive (but much nicer tbh) when you buy them outside the supermarket.
Here’s an example of my new-found flexibility.
We have always loved meals that include cheese sauce (I taught all my kids to make cheese sauce before they left home). But cheese, when you buy local cheese from the milkman, becomes something of a luxury item. So I've learned to add other ingredients (depending on what I have) to flavour my cheese sauce. Mustard (homemade from a big tub of mustard powder I bought from the wholefood shop). Apple cider vinegar (also homemade from apple peelings and water - so easy!). Herbs from the garden (I dry them in the dehydrator so I have plenty over the winter). A tiny bit more salt and pepper than usual. NOBODY SEEMS TO NOTICE!
I have so much to say on the topic of tips for supermarket-free shopping, there isn’t space here to list them all. But I plan to write up as many as I can so bear with me.
You want to ask one more question don’t you?
I know. I would too!
Here it is…
Did we really avoid supermarkets for a whole year?
If you’re reading this in December 2023, we still have a few weeks to go. If you’re reading it after December 31st.
I’ll be the first to admit our supermarket-free year hasn’t been perfect. It hasn’t addressed all my concerns about the sustainability of my shopping spend and we have resorted to big supermarkets a few times (never for a big shop). We’ve also shopped at our local Co-op for a few items when other avenues have failed (mainly the Friday crisps and beer items).
I’m aware I need to do more investigation if I want to make sure my food shopping habits benefit rather than harm the environment as well as the people in my supply chain.
- I haven’t taken into account the overseas farmers who supply some of my wholefoods.
- Not all of my fruit and vegetables have come from local suppliers.
- Apart from in my garden, I haven’t focused on organic or regenerative growing and farming.
- Although I have drastically reduced our reliance on plastic packaging, I haven’t eliminated it completely.
- I need to do more research into the Co-op and our milk delivery service.
I am however really pleased with how well we’ve done.
And 2024 is, as they say, another year. I’ve no intention of undoing all the good work we’ve done this year. We’ve left the world of the supermarket via it’s oversized, energy wasteful, automatic exit door and really don’t want to re-enter.
As one couple, I doubt we’ve made any difference at all to how the big supermarkets treat our farmers but even the smallest ball, once it is rolling, starts to gather girth.
And we aren’t the only people turning their backs on the food giants.
Will you join us and go supermarket free for 2024?