An ethical buyer and new mum swap their usual haunts to see the difference in quality and cost available in store
Horsemeat scandals aside, the march of the supermarket has been unfaltering for the last 60 years.
There is no town which cannot boast two if not three of the big names in the business of multi-buys and mass consumption. Even smaller high streets are now seeing the same stores opening up mini-me versions, selling the same goods but at slightly higher prices.
This shift in shopping patterns is, of course, down to society changes as work pressures mean shopping – even for food – has become a weekend pastime, and the convenience of pitching up in your car at a one-stop shop or even ordering online and having it delivered to your door is, well, too convenient.
But can shopping locally still add up? Edinburgh has many high streets which do still have independent food experts, and you may be surprised by the price.
The Evening News is today launching its Shop Local, Eat Local campaign which will see a series of features over the coming months supporting local independent businesses.
So to put the supermarket to the test against shopping locally, we asked one busy new mum to dump the supermarket for Stockbridge for her weekly shop, and a young, ethically-aware woman to abandon her wholefood stores and organic veg boxes for a trip to Cameron Toll and a shop at the Sainsbury’s there.
Here’s how they compared . . .
ALYS MUMFORD, 24, a charity campaign director, from Newington.
As I share a flat with others – there’s five of us altogether – our weekly shopping bill is around £120, which I feel is really quite cheap.
But I don’t ever go to the supermarket. For a start I don’t have a car, and really you need to have one as lugging bags of stuff around on the bus isn’t appealing, and you know you’d buy more than necessary at a supermarket because that’s what they want you to do.
Instead, we shop locally, but also we get a fruit and veg box delivered from East Coast Organics which costs £18 and does us for the week and is very convenient. For dried and tinned foods like pasta and rice, and grains and pulses, we go to the New Leaf Co-op in Marchmont which sells lots of local produce.
I’m not a vegetarian but tend to not eat too much meat, but when I do I’ll buy it from the local butcher and we’ve got Welsh’s fishmongers which is great. Then there’s a Peckham’s close by, too, where we can get deli things and cheese.
I really believe in the importance of local shops and in using them as it all adds to a sense of community. I try to live quite ethically and I like to know where my food has come from.
It’s great that you can get to know your local shopkeepers, too, and know they appreciate your custom – one of the corner shops always saves us the fruit which has just gone off so we can make smoothies. It’s a nice relationship.
Our closest supermarket is Sainsbury’s in Cameron Toll so I got the bus there with a flatmate. It did feel huge when I walked in and I thought I’d never find anything. And then there were all the extras like clothes and electricals – it was quite overwhelming.
We started with fruit and veg and we tried to get British produce, which proved to be quite hard which surprised me. And because everything we normally get is organic, we were trying to replicate that, which proved to be expensive compared with what we normally pay.
A squash was £1.42 and we got sweet potatoes, leeks, aubergine, garlic, spring onions and loose ginger and it all just came to £8. You can’t argue with the price, but I like to know that it’s organic and local, and even comes with a bit of mud on it. For me, the box we get delivered is better as I have more faith in the product and there’s not all the plastic packaging.
At the cheese counter we wanted to have a chat about what Scottish cheeses they had, but they only had one. They were pleasant but I felt their knowledge wasn’t as good as that at Peckham’s.
Then we went to get some meat, but when we spoke to the butcher it turned out that the local organic meat was in the chiller cabinets and not at the fresh counter, which I thought was strange and it was more expensive than the local butcher – so much so that we didn’t buy any beef, but went for a lamb which was cheaper but still cost £17! And the organic bacon was also very expensive at £4 for packet of six rashers.
It was the same man who also served us at the fish counter, and again while he had some knowledge of what actual product they had, he didn’t know much more than that. We got some mackerel for £3 which was cheap.
Things like milk and juice certainly were cheaper than our local shops and then there were multi-buys which we did take advantage of – it was lucky we were getting a lift back home.
With things like flour and butter, the Sainsbury’s basic range is very cheap. Eggs were around the same price – we got half a dozen free range for £1.85.
There are certain items which you can get a lot cheaper in the supermarket – for example, own- brand basics ranges and multi-buy offers. But for other items the supermarket was considerably more expensive, particularly with organic, fair trade or local products.
Organic meat, for example, was double the price of non-organic and the same was true for local cheese versus imported. With local shops there is not nearly so high a mark-up. Ultimately, in trying to replicate our normal shop we spent more than normal.
I suppose the other reason our regular weekly spend is lower than that of the supermarket is because we often buy in bulk, so we can buy a huge tub of honey for about the same price as a regular jar in the supermarket because you pay a premium for the brand and the packaging.
Of course, if I had children my lifestyle would change, I’d have a car and there would be issues with a buggy in small stores, but I do think it’s important for children to know where their food comes from.
Mull of Kintyre cheddar £3.33
Wensleydale with cranberries £1.17
Smoked goats’ cheese £2.72
2 packets organic back bacon £7.98
Organic half leg of lamb £17.00
Sweet potato £2.00
Butternut squash £1.42
Loose ginger £2.00
Hot smoked mackerel £3.16
3 mackerel fillets £2.67
Rosemary bread ring £1.14
KATY RUTHERFORD, 33, a PE teacher, from Davidson’s Mains
NORMALLY I shop in supermarkets. Where we stay there’s not really that much in the way of small local shops. There’s an RS McColl, but there is a Tesco Metro, although I tend to use the one in Corstorphine as it’s much bigger, or go to Sainsbury’s at Craigleith.
We are a weekly shop family, but as I’m on maternity leave with Noah who is eight months, I probably go to the supermarket twice a week. I suppose the reason we go to the supermarket is because it’s easy.
Everything I need is there. You can park outside, don’t need to pay to do that, and I can put Noah in the trolley. It is completely convenient.
I was slightly dreading the idea of shopping in Stockbridge. It was a lovely morning, but I was concerned about the parking and getting the buggy in and out of small stores.
I went early, about 9.30am, so that it was quieter, and I managed to get a parking space fairly easily – but, of course, had to pay, which meant leaving Noah in the car while I found a meter, which I wasn’t too happy about.
I did find it difficult going in and out of stores on Raeburn Place with the buggy, which meant I didn’t really browse so didn’t buy all that I normally would in the supermarket ,where I spend about £80 a week.
I was aware of taking up space so wanted to be in and out as soon as possible. It made me feel a bit uptight.
However, the staff in the stores were all very lovely and helpful, especially in Herbie’s delicatessen.
They gave Noah some breadsticks to chew on while I was choosing my cheese and let me taste it before I bought, which was nice. I bought bread, cheese, paté and baby food, which was the same brand I’d buy at the supermarket and it cost just the same, which surprised me. But the whole shop there came to £14, which was more than I’d spend normally, though I did feel that it was all probably better quality.
It was the same at the butchers and the fishmongers. I felt that I was getting a lot for my money. It didn’t seem more expensive either, which surprised me. At the fishmongers I got salmon fillets and king prawns, which can be very expensive – and which I always feel are too small at supermarkets – and it only came to £8.79.
The butcher was slightly cheaper. I got two sirloin steaks which were thickly cut, a homemade steak pie which was huge, and chicken breasts which were enormous and didn’t seem to have the same amount of fat that you get on them at supermarkets. That all came to £18.
Both those stores were great value for money, the staff were helpful, and it was all really fresh and great quality.
However, when I went to the grocers to buy fruit and veg, I got a shock. Maybe I was unlucky, there might be cheaper places in Stockbridge, but I bought a butternut squash and was charged £4. I couldn’t believe it. I also got three parsnips which cost £3.29 and one sweet potato and it all came to £9.80, which is just crazy and almost double what I would pay at a supermarket and it wasn’t organic.
I would say that overall the butcher and the fishmonger are places I would go back to, I’d be quite happy to go back and give them my money, but maybe when Noah is a bit older.
To be honest, there wasn’t that much difference in price. At the moment the supermarket is much more convenient for us and, of course, you get loyalty points.
Herbie’s granary loaf £2.50
Chicken liver pate (£1.60 per 100g) £4.60
Cheddar cheese £3.00
George Bower butcher £17.85
Medium steak pie £6.68
Chicken breasts (0.63kg @ £8.40 per kg) £5.29
Shoulder steak (0.545kg @ £10.78 per kg) £5.88
Costcutter grocer £9.38
Butternut squash £4.04
Sweet potato 90p
George Armstrong fishmonger £8.79
Salmon fillets (0.31kg @ £14.80 per kg) £4.59
King prawns (0.21kg at £20 per kg) £4.20