Saturday, 14 May 2011

Grocery Shopping in London

One of the recurrent warnings we received from people when we told them that we were planning to move to London was that London is an expensive place to live. True enough, we discovered, depending on how you live. If you're one of those people who is accustomed to having a roof over your head, indoor plumbing, and running water, then yes, London is an expensive place to live.

Thankfully, groceries are on balance far less expensive than in the United States. Bethie and I do our shopping at Sainsbury's, which is roughly equivalent to a Safeway: reliable, with some nice things, but certainly not fancy. It's only a short walk away, which is its finest point.

A few weeks ago, I went to Sainsbury's to pick up some toothpaste. I saw on the shelf a tube for 17p (about 27 cents), under the brand "Sainsbury's Basics." The description read: "Simple formula, still with added fluoride." Good enough, I thought, and headed to the registers with my purchase.

I have always taken a middle road with regard to the "cheap brands" at the grocery store. I love to cook (and to eat), so I'm happy to spend more for good food. On the other hand, where I don't think the product will harm me or the taste of what I'm cooking, I'll consider the store brand. So, for example, generic ibuprofen, but organic chicken.

All of the Sainsbury's Basics products are packaged in white, orange, and yellow, with a description in this formula:

A bit/not quite/etc. X,
still Y.

For example:

Fine, right? If you pay less for peanuts or cashews, you expect they will be small and/or broken. This also seems OK to me:

Cute. What about this one? Maybe less OK?

Or this?

"Less white" seems OK, but I don't like being reassured that my food is "still alright." This is what "less white" instant potatoes cost:

I will pass on this:

If it's not so nutty, what is filling up the jar? And for mozzarella, do we need to assure the customer that the milk is "from cows?"

Why does this take "a few minutes more?" I'm not going to find out.

And I'm not sure what to make of this:

I concluded that I probably won't be bringing home too many Sainsbury's Basics products. The toothpaste is serviceable, but we'll spend a bit more on that next time (it is "not minty enough, still cleans teeth"). And we'll avoid pasta that is "not really made with wheat, still technically food." For some things, though, the Sainsbury's Basics brand appears to do the job:

As a final warning to you, always read your labels. I expect that most dish soap will have all sorts of nasties in it, but the description of this one made me look a little closer:

I'm not sure what other "promises" I'm looking for from my dish soap, but I know that one of them is to not add formaldehyde to the solution:


  1. Hahaha! Glad to know I'm not the only one inspired to whip out my camera in the grocery store. I'm going to have to take a closer look at the Basics next time I'm at Sainsbury's.

  2. Very interesting and entertaining. In Switzerland the equivalent was Migros. Everything was labeled M_____ with the name of the item added. Surprisingly, with all the wonderful chocolate you can buy in that country, the Migros brand was my favorite. It comes in about 40 flavors!

  3. So funny. My husband and I really enjoyed this post. ~Cassandra


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