A few people have asked me about what the grocery stores here are like....and this very question was a central concern of mine before we moved here. I go to the grocery store basically every day (note the size of our fridge in a previous post) and frankly some may say I am a bit strange because I love grocery shopping. I felt my findings at these stores were worthy of a blog posting.
When we came to England on our home finding trip, I insisted on checking out the grocery stores in the area, and probably spent a few hours in total just wandering the aisles, reviewing the product selection, and observing prices of goods. Since I am an avid cook, the grocery store is important to me.
Here in our area, we have a number of UK grocery store chains close by. There are two "superstores" (aka American suburban-type grocery store) within about 2 miles of our house. One is a chain called Sainsburys, and the other is called Tesco. Sainsburys seems to be a small step up in my opinion from Tesco, so I tend to shop there the most. We also have two "metro" shops in our town that are within walking distance - a Metro Tesco, and a small Marks & Spencer. M&S is a higher end, own brand type store that sells a lot of pre-made foods, small selection of everything else which is all part of their own brand - similar to a Trader Joe's in the states (but no where near as inexpensive as TJ's). I will frequently walk to these stores for a quick something if I need something fairly soon, however, the selection at both stores is more limited.
Finally, a few towns over, we have a new superstore - Waitrose. Waitrose is so nice, clean and really quite pretty. It is owned by the UK department store chain, John Lewis, and it is often a bit more expensive than Sainsburys or Tesco. Indeed some things are more expensive there, but as with all grocery stores, one just must know the prices of goods. I have enjoyed exploring all stores because they are all new to me.
It is a strange feeling to be in a new place and not to know many brands of goods. The first week we were in our house, I went to the store to buy laundry detergent, cleaning supplies, etc. and I just stood in the aisle looking at each item, wondering which one to choose. I did not recognize a single brand on the shelf. Thankfully, at least we are in an English-speaking country, so i can at least read the packaging.... The cleaning products seem to be fine and the laundry detergent I chose (Ariel liquid) seems to be the best laundry detergent I have encountered thus far. The white socks, towels, and more that I wash with this liquid are the cleanest I have ever seen them. The detergent smells pretty good too!
The cost of groceries here, for the most part, is about double the cost of groceries in America. On a whole, I have found things to be equally priced in pounds and dollars, but then given the exchange rate, they are easily twice as expensive here in the UK. So, for example, chicken tends to be about 3.99 pounds per pound and in America, it was about $3.99 per pound - in essence, similar in price, but since the dollar is so weak, the cost is nearly double. That said, there are a few things that are actually cheaper here despite the dismal exchange rate. The bread selection is much more vast here and I pay 62 pence (about $1) for a loaf of freshly baked crusty sliced bread. The quality is much better than I ever found at a chain grocery in the US and the price cannot be beat. That said, the cracker and digestive (aka cookie) selection here is very large compared to that in the US. Carbohydrates are loved here!
Wine is also much more reasonable, in part due to the fact that we are closer to the European countries making the wine, I would think. Good Italian or French wine can be purchased for about 4-5 pounds per bottle. American wine, ironically, retails for more along the lines of 10-12 pounds per bottle.
While there are a number of positive things about the grocery stores here,
there are quite a few things I miss.
My list of items I cannot find here includes:
- Marshmallow Cream or Fluff
- Canned Pumpkin (note: Whole Foods in London does carry Libby's canned pumpkin -
so I stocked up the last time I was there)
- Ranch Salad Dressing
- Caramel Sauce (such as Smucker's, etc. for ice cream or I use it for baking) - everything is TOFFEE flavored here
- Good marshmallows
- Dark corn syrup
- Cheez-ITs, Fritos, Cheetos, most american type crackers/chips, although Pringles are here
- PAM spray/Baker's Joy Spray/any type of baking spray
- Boxed Mac n' cheese (note: I do not eat this stuff but I know many americans
complain about not being able to buy it here)
- A big bag of chocolate chips (see photo and note below). I used to buy my TJ's bags of chocolate chips for $1.89 for a 12 ounce (or 2 cup) bag of chocolate chips
- Frank's Hot Sauce
- Normal Taco Seasoning (the Old El Paso version they sell here tastes like curry - very strange)
- Ziploc Bags or twist ties for your bags
- Pork Tenderloin or Flank Steak (note: these items can be found, but I have learned I have to order them "specially" from a butcher shop in town - they are not sold at the main grocery store)
The UK version of chocolate chips - sold in 100 gram containers (translates to about 1/2 cup of chocolate chips) for 64 pence, which equals about $1. In order to make a batch of chocolate chip cookies, it would cost almost $4 for the chocolate chips alone!!!
A few american products are available, but they come in different forms or by different makers. For example, Honey Nut Cheerios are at the store here, but they are made by Nestle here, not General Mills. Also, I can buy Ritz crackers, but they are not sold in the sleeves of crackers - they come in a box with a bag inside of it, such as a box of Wheat Thins.
Overall, I cannot complain about the grocery stores here. Luckily, since I enjoy cooking and have the time to do so, we have been eating pretty well. The food out at the restaurants is another story.....
I do, however, have my list of goods to stock up on, when I am home in the US, so I can still make some of our favorite "American" dishes.