Tag Archives: Shopping

How much is a packet of digestives? You do the math…

Picture of value pack of digestives, 2 x 400g

The biscuits on the shelf at Sainsburys in Balham on 29th July 2012

When I was doing my 30-days-without-supermarkets challenge last year, I discovered that there is nothing more slippery and variable than the price of a digestive biscuit.  It’s now even more slippery, to the extent that I completely gave up trying to work out who had the best deal. So back at the lab, here is my analysis of the results:

1. Iceland have a deal where you can buy 400g for the price of 300g (90p). Price per 100g = 22.5p

2. Sainsburys sell 250g of digestives for 89p – price per 100g = 35.6p

3. Sainsburys in Balham advertise a pack of 2 x 500g of digestives for £1.99 –  price on the ticket, 100g = 19.9p p.

However, look closely at the packet, and you’ll find that they’re not 500g packets, they’re 400g, which means that you’re getting 2x400g = 800g for £1.99 which is 100g = 24.8p per 100g.  So you’re better off going to Iceland and buying 400g for the price of 300g, thereby saving 2p. But if you don’t look carefully, you might look at a 250g packet for 89p, thinking that it’s the same thing as the 300g packet that was 90p in Iceland, and therefore 1p cheaper, whereas in fact, you’re getting 50g less. Confused? You bet I am. 250g of digestives often cost 99p, which is 39.6p per 100g – so if you ever did manage to buy 2x500g for £1.99 as Sainsburys advertise, then you could be paying double the price for the same product. Oh and if you buy a packet of 500g online, you can currently get that for 85p, which is better than buying two 400g for £1.99.

Update on 24/1/2013

I think I’ve sussed it now: the real price of Digestives is 99p for 400g. The reason? Because you can get Digestives in Poundland – the 400g variety, for – you guessed it, a pound. If they have to shave off the 100g from their biscuits in order to bring the price to a pound and remain profitable, then I guess 400g for £1 is the bottom line, when it comes to Digestives. And if the 99p store also has them, then the price is 99p per 400g. In short, if you’re buying 400g of Digestives, it matters very little where you buy them, except that Poundland is currently (pro rata) more expensive than Sainsburys (this week at least – last week of January) where it’s £1.70 for a double pack of 400g packets.   It’s only when you buy small packets (250g) that you could be paying through the nose, and again, it doesn’t matter where you go, you’ll pay too much (though M&S local have been some of the most expensive, in my experience).

All Digestive prices trivia welcome in the comments.

30 days without supermarkets #28-30: wrapping up


Smoked ham

The last 5 days of the no-supermarket challenge were scuppered by spending them in Prague where at least for the first couple of days, I defaulted to Tesco because I knew where it was and what it did.

As the days have gone past, I have discovered where the small shops are – there are refreshingly large numbers of minimarkets, even in central Prague, though I suspect it will not  long before they too will be replaced  or outdone by Tesco Express stores as in the UK.

For the 25 days while I was in London, however, I accomplished my no-supermarket challenge without a hitch, and it was one of the most satisfying and creatively stimulating things I’ve done in a long time.   I learned a lot along the way, including:

  • Forcing one small change in any area of your life seems to have a knock-on effect in your thinking in other areas.
  • A small creative challenge is as good as, if not better, than a big one, because it’s do-able.
  • Shopping at supermarkets is fundamentally a depressing and numbing experience that stifles original, creative thought about the miniature challenges of everyday life.
  • The mind of the supermarket becomes implanted in your brain. Taking yourself out of them for a while is a liberating experience, and opens your eyes to other opportunities.
  • Genuine, friendly interactions with people in local shops make every day that much more pleasant. Scripted, enforced interactions with supermarket cashiers are a source of stress.

Several people have asked me whether I will continue to avoid supermarkets once the challenge is over. The answer is a resounding yes, not because I want to live in a permanent state of protest against them, but simply because living without them has been a joyful experience that has added many positive things to my daily life, and removed many negative ones.


30 days without supermarkets #27: My new briki


Briki from the household department at Kotva

I finally threw away the džezva that I bought in a department store in Belgrade in 1979 last year. My recent discovery of Lebanese coffee at Daily Fresh in Tooting means I need another one, though it should really be a rakweh. The Greek friend I’m staying with tells me it’s a called briki in Greek. I bought this one at Kotva in Prague, where it’s also called a džezva. This is making me slightly sentimental for the subject of my first (unfinished) PhD which was lexical variation in the cooking vocabulary of Serbo-Croat. Really.

30 days without supermarkets #25: Selling sugar, salt and fat cheap


Promotion at Sainsburys, Colliers Wood

It doesn’t matter how much you push the idea of healthy eating, low-fat options, fresh ingredients, 5-a-day fruit and vegetables and a well-balanced diet, if in the end you offer pizza and ice-cream half price on a sign this big before you get into the shop, then that says a lot about your values and what you are actually promoting.

You could argue that they’re just doing good deals on what ‘people’ want. But in fact, without supermarkets, ‘people’ wouldn’t think “I know, I’ll have a pizza’ every time they thought about food.  If you’re looking for a reason that there’s an obesity epidemic, this may be a good place to start.

30 days without supermarkets #24: Lemon shortbread


Lemon shortbread biscuits

In the spirit of my non-wasteful ambitions of recent posts, i just had to finish up some butter and a couple of lemons, so I made some lemon shortbread biscuits, and used up the end of a bag of ground almonds as well as semolina that the recipe called for. It took minutes, and though I say it myself, they were delicious. They also made four people that bit happier today.

That wasn’t quite it though. I also had a lime, two lemons and a pot of double cream about to expire. I quickly whipped up a lemon ice cream, adding the end of a bottle of rosé instead of the water in the recipe.

That’s it – absolutely nothing wasted this week, and a bunch of delights in the process.

30 days without supermarkets #23: How I learned to stop throwing stuff away


Watermelons in Nokta by Tooting Bec

One unmistakeable effect of this no-supermarket challenge is that I simply don’t waste food anymore. Yesterday was the last chance to use up a lot of things I had left from the beginning of the week – onions, peppers, carrots, half a kohlrabi, mild green chilis, some quark. I made a big mixed vegetable curry out of all of it, using the quark to thicken it (something I’d never thought of doing before, but it works like a dream).

I probably wouldn’t have done that before. I would have looked at it and wondered what to do with it, because it doesn’t fit into the food-framing that Sainsburys does for you: it must involve meat, particularly chicken breasts, and vegetables are an accompaniment, not a feature (at Tooting, for example, meat is near the front door, vegetables are at the back).  What’s more, there must always be a luxury ingredient, and you shouldn’t have to work too hard.

Now, I’m not saying any of this is necessarily explicit or Sainsbury’s fault, but it’s  what walking round Sainsbury’s does to me. After 3 weeks of not going there, I feel like I’ve got my life back.  I’m also aware that sometimes I’d just go to a supermarket and get more stuff that was easy to make into a meal, rather than work out what to do with what I’d got.  There’s something insidious about the way that celebrity chefs, magazines, food journalism and food retail all work together to create a kind of a food-porn that reconstructs  what cooking and eating means for us and sells it back to us as if it was what we wanted all along. It takes effort and definitive action to step outside it and think for yourself.



30 days without supermarkets #22: Hello Harissa


I’d never tried harissa before a few months ago, and only really heard of it about a year ago. I made a special trip to Waitrose once to get a jar so I could try it, since I’d given up finding it anywhere else. I tried it, I liked it. It’s one of those magic ingredients that you don’t need much of to lift even the dullest food out of its torpor.

Since avoiding supermarkets for the last 22 days, I’ve discovered that in fact my local shop, Daily Fresh, has loads of harissa, and not at yuppie prices. What’s more, it has the the wonderful brand name of Le Phare du Cap Bon. Who could resist?

Harissa paste


30 days without supermarkets #22: Goodbye mugs



So today I made the Lebanese coffee the right way, and managed to find a small cup to drink it out of. Delicious.

It makes a nice change to have a cup, rather than a bucket of coffee. Which reminds me how much it annoys me when you can’t just get a human-sized coffee from places like Starbucks and service stations.

M&S café at St George’s hospital in Tooting is the one that annoys me the most. There is no option to get a cup that is either in size or weight suitable  for an old or infirm person to drink out of. Every time I’ve taken my mum there, I’ve had to ask them to pour some out because she can’t lift it or hold it safely. They don’t get it, and still fill them 7/8 full. I have to go outside and pour half of it down the drain, but that still doesn’t change the fact that if you have to carry hot liquid half a mile round a hospital, you don’t want a wobbly cardboard bucket that you can hardly get your hands round.

When did this happen, and why? In what other country in the world is a standard cup of coffee bigger than any mug you have at home?


30 days without supermarkets #21: bye bye chicken breasts


Wonderful pink grapefruit from Daily Fresh

I’m quite unnerved by the amount of money I’m saving by not shopping at Sainsburys, or rather by the amount that I would throw at them without a thought to what I actually liked or wanted. I’m building up a mental list of foods that I have completely forgotten about since I started my no-supermarket challenge.  Smoked salmon, asparagus, raspberries, Danone yoghurts, mini corn on the cob, tenderstem broccoli and chicken breasts.

  • Most of those I wouldn’t get that often, except for chicken breasts which were hardly out of the fridge from one week to the next. I’ve now  realised that despite that list being worth over £20,  I don’t really like any of the things on it enough to seek them out, not even – in fact, especially not – chicken breasts.

Nigel Slater wrote somewhere that he could happily throw the breast of a chicken away and use the rest, as it’s such a dull, tasteless and unrewarding thing to cook. Yet I had begun to think that a packet of 4 chicken breasts was a kitchen staple.  Since they cost around £5 pounds a packet, just think what else you could eat if you just took them out of the equation for a week.


30 days without supermarkets #20: Wake up and smell the (Lebanese) coffee


Lebanese coffee from Daily Fresh

The best thing about this no-supermarket challenge is that as a result of kicking me sharply  out of my shopping and eating habits, I have begun to  think differently and creatively  about the way I do all kinds of other things. The benefit to my state of mind and the projects and problems I’m working on has been immeasurable. It started out being about food, and ended up as something much more.

So here’s another habit that changed thanks to my no-supermarket challenge. I am such a coffee junkie that I sometimes go to bed wishing it was morning just so I can go through the coffee ritual. Bearing in mind that my favourite ground coffee comes from Lidl, I worried for a moment about where I was going to get the next fix.

This is how supermarkets blind you to what’s round the corner. Daily Fresh, my favourite local store, sell coffee.  In fact, they sell the most appealing looking coffee I’ve seen in a long time, Maatouk 1960 Lebanese coffee.  They do two versions, one with cardamom, one without. It reminded me of my student days in Zagreb, when my Lebanese room-mate Ahmed and his friends would brew up coffee and cardamom on a stove on the floor in our room.

First time around, I’m trying the plain version. It’s very fine, rich and aromatic, and without thinking I made it the espresso way which was wrong for the kind of coffee it is. I should have done it the Turkish/Lebanese way by adding it to  boiling water and sugar in what I call a džezva and drinking it short with thick coffee mud in the bottom.  Time for a change in the coffee rituals – something else to look forward to.