Sunday, August 08, 2010

The shameless supermarket rip off ... and the numbers to prove it

I've long been a big supporter of local food and smaller businesses, preferring to buy my food from farm shops, farmers markets, butchers, fishmongers, etc. - basically any specialist who knows what they're doing. I do use supermarkets, but most of the time it's for bulk purchasing of things that aren't so easy to find locally, the boring stuff like toilet rolls and pasta. But I'm not just some local eco-warrior, a middle class idiot with enough cash to be able to waste what I earn. After all I work in education, and that's not known as a particuarly well paid profession, and on top of that the west country isn't exactly the best paid place to work either!

I was raised a thrifty shopper either way, and I've long been convinced that buying locally not only helps to support local business and ease pressure on the environment, but that it also saves me money in the process. Up to now this has been more of an ad hoc belief, based on the odd price that I've compared here and there over the years, but this morning I decided to finally sit down and work it out pound for pound - and the results are pretty astonishing. Let's put it this way - I think I know where the supermarkets like Tesco are making those billion pound profits - the truth is if you're a supermarket shopper, then they're basically ripping you off.

Exe Valley Farm Shop versus Tesco, Sainsbury & Asda - the Numbers

I use the Exe Valley Farm Shop for most of my shopping, and this morning I popped down there for potatoes and some fruit for the week ahead. As usual I managed to buy much more than I planned- there's something that's no different from supermarket to farm shop! - but the whole lot only cost me £8.96. That's not so unusual to be honest, but we had so much I thought it was about time I did a comparison shop.

My food basket, not bad for a quick trip down the farm shop and back

Unfortunately I didn't take down every individual price in the farm shop, but I realised I had enough info to create a comparison none the less. All I needed to do was weigh everything I had, and then spend some time going through each of the supermarkets websites to see what they would charge for the same thing. And here are the results - personally I found them pretty shocking.

The upside is that my £8.96 basket of food from the farm shop would cost £14.82 at Tesco, £15.48 at Sainsbury and £12.52 at Asda. Whichcever way you look at it, the supermarkets suddenly don't look quite so 'super' any more.

Spreadsheet comparing price of goods at the Exe Valley Farm Shop versus Tesco, Sainsbury & Asda

The supermarkets have long been trying to convince us that they save us money, but the plain fact of the matter is that they don't save us money, they make supermarkets money. That's their sole purpose in life, to make money, and they have absolutely no qualms about doing it. They are machines set-up to extract as much money as possible from our pockets, whilst at the same time they have marketing machines spending millions convincing us that it's all in our best interest to keep shopping there.

I've not even mentioned the health or environmental aspects to this, it's all been about the money. But my basket contains (pretty much) only local food, sourced within a few miles of where I live, and has all been grown pretty naturally. I know the onions, for example, are from my own village, and the apples are from an orchard just a couple of hills away in Cadbury. How does that compare with Dutch onions shipped in across the north sea, and apples flown all the way from New Zealand? Now my local farm shop isn't some sort of charity, sure they sell some food from a long way away, but they're pragmatists and know they need to meet customer demand. That said the majority of their food is local and fresh, and they support a wide range of local producers across the full spectrum of foodstuffs.

So that's the Veg - but what about the Meat?

One more thing before I wrap up - the main reasons for going to the farm shop this morning was for potatoes to go with my Sunday roast. Seeing as I was comparing prices anyway, I wondered just how my lovely 3-rib forerib of beef on the bone from my local butcher here in the village would compare with the supermarket prices. No prizes for guessing - turns out they would rip me off just as badly for the meat as they would do for the veg. I bought a fantastic piece of meat for £35 from my butcher, which I know will be enough for at least 35 meals, if not more (and if you doubt that, just flick through some older postings for ideas about leftovers). A quick check on the supermarkets sites show that for the same quality meat I'd be paying at least £20 more. In fact the only way I could get meat cheaper would be if I paid for the very lowest quality that they offered, and even then it would only be a small saving - and somehow I don't think such cheap meat would stretch as far as I have planned for what I've bought. No bones to boil up for stocks and soup, that's for sure - and once that sort of meat has been minced up for chilli and bolognese I think you'd be hard pressed to find the flavour.

Anyhow, I hope this Sunday rant has perhaps convinced the odd sceptic out there to try more local shopping. But one more caveat perhaps  - there are farm shops, and there are farm shops. There are still local monstrosities that need avoiding - Darts Farm, for example (in my experience at least) is even more of a rip off than the supermarkets. I would put their prices up to show you, but it's not something they like to share on-line it seems. Knowing some of their mark-up I don't blame them! I guess at the end of the day you need to shop with eyes wide open, but just don't let those supermarket bullies convince you they're doing you a favour by selling you all that nice cheap food. It 'aint half has cheap as they make out ...

Rib of Beef for Sunday lunch - meat from the village butcher, veg from the farm shop (not to mention runner beans from the garden), wine from the local vintner. And a hell of a lot cheaper than you'd pay from your supermarket.


helen connole said...

That's all very well rich and i know where you're coming from but how does your average pauper get to the Exe Valley farm shop without a car - it's in the middle of nowhere! I can walk to the supermarket.

Anonymous said...

hi rich,
we're in the car and have been all day travelling south and i've lost your mobile #. can you text it? cheers R&C

by the way on the theme of roasts ate most of a home reared 8kg leg of pork last night. you'd have been impressed!

Rich said...

Farm shops to tend to be a bit rural Helen, it's true - though with the kind of savings I found on Sunday you could probably afford to buy a car after not too long!

Velva said...

I wish I could say that eating locally is less expensive across the pond. Unfortunately for us, we have to make a decision to shop and eat locally.

Recently, I purchased with friends an organic grass fed organic steer for our beef. I have just put in my order for organic poultry raised on a local farm (it costs $20 for 4-5 lb hen). I shop at the local farmer's market each Saturday, it's not cheaper for us but for the principle it is well worth the extra cash.

Great post!

Rich said...

In truth Velva some of the individual prices at the Farm Shop were a little higher - I went back and had a closer look at them the day after. Onions, for example, were a few pence more per pound. But then the onions from the farm shop were very fresh local ones. What struck me was where I made the savings - things like potatoes, for example, which I guess I'd always assumed were a cheap food, but apparently not at the supermarket! The cynic in me might suggest that they artificially inflate the prices of some things in order that people don't notice to improve profits.

What bugs me most is that supermarkets were invented more for convenience shopping, a product of improved freight and storage together with more personal mobility, but they've somehow managed to convince us all here in the UK that they're also doing us a favour and selling us food cheaply. In reality they're making huge amounts of money from our gullibility, and whilst they do sell us some cheap food they manage that by reducing the quality levels to the very bare minimum - and in my mind threatening the nations health by doing so.

Interesting about the beef - love to do the same myself, maybe when the families larger I'll get a chance. I had chicken Sunday as it happened, a local free range bird but not organic. That was about £8 for a 5lb bird, so a fair bit cheaper than yours - though organic might have been more comparable in price. Cooked it with wet garlic that I'd just dug up and chives from the garden, made into a herb butter and pushed under the skin - interesting experiment! If I get a chance I might even blog about it :-)


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