Shopping Smart

Last night I did a quick walk around a supermarket on Periscope to provide people with some little tips on starting your vegan journey on a budget or if your mental health means you don’t really want to spend a lot of time cooking but still want to give veganism a go. This is mainly a summary of that discussion (and a later one I also had on Periscope). I’m also considering doing a brief food diary a couple of days a week to show people what a depressed vegan eats and how I shop etc, but for now let’s get into it.

Firstly, this is working on the assumption of you having a freezer and some cupboard space, as well as being able to get to and get around a supermarket. This is purely because it’s most reflective of my circumstances and I don’t want to make any guesses about what it may be like for people not in this position, but I do have intentions of speaking to people for whom any or all of this is not true to gain some perspective from them.

The first thing is the old faithful reduced section. When I was at uni around 146 years ago we used to do our food shop at a nearby 24-hour Tesco after midnight. It was always very quiet and the reduced sections for the bakery and veg aisles were fairly well stocked. Reduced sections are generally hit and miss so you may have to get creative, and I by no means suggest always doing your shopping at 2am, but if you’re able to get to a nearby supermarket a little later in the evening (for example, if your nearest shop shuts at 10pm, try getting there for 9ish) you’ll find more items are reduced and the shop will be much quieter. It’s great if you’re anxious in busy places or if you simply hate queuing.

The next thing I brought up was brand label items compared to a supermarket’s own brand. This is most noticeable for things like tins of baked beans, chopped tomatoes etc. The product is often more or less the same, maybe a “premium” brand like Heinz use a slightly different recipe but the majority of the time the extra cost you’re choosing to pay is for the name on the packaging on the product rather than the contents. It may seem like a small saving but consider the fact that you might buy, say, one tin of beans a week. If you pay 35p for a supermarket’s own brand instead of 70p, over a year that’s a saving of just over £18. Quite often the “premium” brands are shelved at eye level, so look at the items above/below them. Those brands pay for their space at the end of aisles and their position on shelves. It’s no coincidence that the cheapest stuff is usually in the most basic packaging on the bottom shelf. There’s been less investment in the product itself so whoever makes it can afford to charge far less, but it’s the same basic product on the inside. Give it a go, if for whatever reason it isn’t for you then you can go back to what you know.

As well as reduced items, look out for discounts. At this time of year loads of veggie and vegan stuff is discounted to take advantage of people partaking in Veganuary. They want you to try their products and alter your buying habits so you purchase their items on a regular basis. If you know you like something and have the space, take the time to stock up. Last summer a supermarket by me messed up massively and had Linda McCartney sausages priced at 45p for a few weeks (they’re usually £2). Needless to say I got through a load of boxes around that time.

The next thing is to buy frozen fruit and veg when you can. Provided you have space, it won’t go off and it’s so convenient. If you have a few days where you feel awful and just eat crisps and cereal then that’s fine, but if you then feel the need to make a smoothie you’re either confronted with a trip to the shops or a trip to the freezer. I know which I’d prefer. Same with veg. Most places offer all sorts now, from frozen onions and mushrooms to avocados and butternut squash. I love getting packs of mixed veg and heating some up with some chopped tomatoes and having that makeshift sauce with pasta. It’s cheap, it’s quick and it’s pretty good for you too.

Another thing I’d suggest is using things like coupons and loyalty cards. It gets a little bit 1984 but using a loyalty card means that a supermarket can track your buying behaviour. They’ll see which stores you go to most and what you buy from them (if you have a bigger store for your “proper shop” and a smaller one a bit closer to home where you go and get a few bits every few days etc), they’ll also know if you’re loyal to specific brands or if, like me, you bounce from offer to offer. They use this information to tailor your coupons and shopping experience. I highly doubt everyone who shops at my local Sainsburys gets coupons for money off or bonus points when they buy Alpro products, but I do. Alpro will probably have paid Sainsburys to give me these discounts to keep me as a loyal customer because it’s on their database that I’m a shopper who buys whatever non-dairy milk is cheapest. If your local store sees a shift in the purchases of “free from” items or sees a maintained high level of “free from” purchases, guess who’ll be getting the new products and expansions on those sections first.

Not only that but you’ll build up points as you shop, and at some point you’ll be able to use those points to pay for your shopping. Back in November I spent less than £2 on food shopping because I decided to use up all my available points and start afresh.

One thing I forgot to mention last night was the inclusion of lists. I know a lot of people always make lists for everything, and it’s something I’m still getting used to. My short term memory is pretty terrible and I wish I had £1 for every time I’d gone to buy food and come home to realise I forgot something because I forgot to take a handwritten list with me. I’d recommend making the list on your phone if you can, purely because it’ll probably be with you when you’re out shopping. Most smartphones have an app for notes or Word documents etc so it won’t cost you anything extra to set it up and it may end up saving you quite a bit of time.

It’s also a good idea to do some product research before you go. On most supermarket websites now you can search “vegan” in their products and be provided with a list of things you can buy in store, some of which you may not have known are vegan friendly! There’s also an Instagram account called accidentallyveganuk which lists snacks and new products released by loads of supermarket chains across the country. Give them a look to make the list and see how you get on.

I’ll do another post later this week about specific tips for people who are new to veganism and may be struggling, and for products and recipes. As always my DMs on Twitter are open to anyone who has any questions or suggestions 🙂

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