/ Food & Drink, Shopping

Order sausage rolls, get Pampers

Question marks on plate

Are you an online grocery shopper? If you are then you’ll probably be familiar with substitutions. So have you suffered from any strange shopping swaps?

I used to be a regular online supermarket shopper, and it turns out it’s becoming popular for weekly shops. Our recent survey found that some 45% of shoppers now do their grocery shop online.

I opted for an online shop after finding carting all my shopping back to my flat a real pain. However, I soon realised that online shopping could be equally painful… as I always had a few substitutions.

The final straw came when in one order I had an entire box of eggs smashed, leaking milk and a spice called asafoetida, which the supermarket naturally assumed was an appropriate substitution for cinnamon.

Supermarket substitutions

To this day I haven’t used my asafoetida, and I’m not all that sure it would beat cinnamon on top of my porridge. I suppose swapping one spice for another isn’t all that strange when you compare it to some of the stories we’ve been hearing from you.

Last year we reported on the odd substitutions you’d had, with Steve telling us about his rather useless delivery:

And it would seem that supermarket substitutions are getting stranger based on the latest set of swaps Which? members have shared with us.

Latest supermarket substitutions

Pampers and sausage rollsWe heard from one member who had received nappies instead of a pack of four sausage rolls – of course.

Another member was delivered toilet roll when they’d ordered Bolognese sauce. And astonishingly someone else had a box of Tampax delivered instead of lettuce. Seems perfectly logical, don’t you think?

Now, what would you do if you were planning on a nice Sunday roast chicken and the supermarket proudly delivered you a packet of chicken crisps? Yes, this was also on our list of odd substitutions. Last time I consulted my Jamie Oliver Sunday Roast recipe it definitely didn’t incorporate any chicken crisps, although a Heston Blumenthal recipe might.

Curiouser and curiouser

Understandably substitutions can’t always be avoided. But I’m not too sure I can identify a logical thought process for some of the above.

Before I completely moved on from online grocery shopping, I did find a hidden section on the ordering page which allowed me to specifically nominate my substitution preferences. But the process was so laborious that it was more effort than it was worth. So I’ll stick to a weekly visit to my local supermarket.

Now I’m curious, have you had any strange supermarket substitution in your online shop?


It would help if the websites told you whether the product you ordered was in stock. Ocado is quite good at this and items are very rarely missing. They also tell you at the door if an item has been replaced and ask if you want it. It will be a sad day if Amazon take them over.

Problems arise when the order is collated in an actual supermarket rather than a warehouse. The websites need an easier method of telling them what you want if the product is not in stock not bury it away somewhere. I think it is Asda who list your order and you specify against each item what you would like to do if your product is not available. So if one of a special offer of 3 is unavailable you can tell them to give you one of the others you have ordered instead. Does help in not getting silly replacements.

Doesn’t help when you are relying on products to arrive though so you do need a plan B just in case.


I used to order online for my elderly mother to save her carrying heavy and bulky items. It did not matter that some things were not in stock because she could collect them and anything else she needed. I live less than a mile from a supermarket and have never considered it worthwhile ordering online. Apart from the problems Alfa mentions, you have to be at home for the delivery. I’m hoping to move home soon and will no longer have a supermarket on the doorstep, so online shopping is likely to be more appealing.


We use Sainsbury’s and occasionally Waitrose for deliveries and have never had any difficulty in ruling out substitutions either entirely or product by product. There is very rarely an unavailability problem – I assume that the ordering site is interlinked with the despatching store to ensure the products listed are available. Obviously if the order is placed several days before delivery is specified there is a risk that an item will go out of stock, but you can review the order and add to it or amend it up to 23:30 on the day before delivery.

I assume that the substitutions for out-of-stock items are done by the ordering system according to some abstruse algorithm and then loaded onto the pickers’ hand-held devices. The picker has no idea that the customer wanted something different, and no one (surely?) would walk halfway round the store to pick a pack of Tampax as a substitute for a lettuce.


We also use Sainsbury’s although we were for many years a 1/2 mile outside their delivery limit
We get the occasional substitute but it’s usually pretty close to the spec of what we wanted
If not reach it back to the driver
I cannot speak for every store but our daughters man is a driver amongst various other things he’s trained to do in there and its not a sophisticated method used for the picking. . Pickers simply go and pick. . It’s done in store not in some remote warehouse here anyhow
Regular the handheld thingy will say stock when there is non and most of the time there is new stock out the back but occasionally the stock has disappeared but there is a time lag between the shelf and the checkout and I’m told that usually within a half hour the item will go out of stock on the system
The son on law also does stock checks and says that if they were not done continually the place could not operate, , Shoplifters, , but all are not caught obviously so they end up endlessly with slight shortages
He says its very seldom that there are any serious amounts of missing items


If I order four items that are on special offer of 4 for the price of 3, and one of the items is not in stock, then I don’t want to buy any of the other three items either. I would instead wait till next week and take advantage of the offer when all items are in stock. However, while it is possible to refuse a substitution, it is not possible to refuse linked items. This is one of the reasons I prefer to shop in person.


That is a good point Clint. It’s a bit more complicated if the offer involves the customer choosing which of several alternative items they want included in their delivery but if the retailer cannot fulfill an offer as specified it should be withdrawn from the website or the unavailable product should be removed from the offer. The companies create these complications – they need to have systems in place to support them.


Asafoetida!!! I can only conclude Lauren you have not opened the packet. It is pretty powerful and fully revolting. Definitely not for porridge or for that matter most food.
“The English name is derived from asa, a Latinized form of Farsi azā, meaning “resin”, and Latin foetidus meaning “smelling, fetid”, which refers to its strong sulfurous odour.”


Indeed. Foetid or fetid in a name would be enough to put me off.