/ Food & Drink, Shopping

Can you top these online grocery substitutions?

Shopping trolley whizzing through supermarket

Online supermarket shopping is the most convenient thing since sliced bread. But that’s until your sliced bread is replaced with a doughnut. Our recent survey highlights some of the strangest substitutions…

Hair-removal cream instead of razor blades, cocktail sausages replaced by oranges, and lemon soap instead of lemonade are among the baffling substitutions that shoppers have received in their online grocery orders.

As part of our survey of more than 7,000 supermarket shoppers, we asked about the strangest substitutions they had ever received. One shopper said:

‘I ordered a frozen turkey crown for two people last Christmas and received a giant whole turkey to feed 17. I couldn’t fit this creature in my freezer and had to get a friend to cut it up with a chainsaw. The delivery driver had gone before I realised what I had been given. This year I chose my turkey in store myself.’

Other bizarre substitutions included eggs instead of margarine, blonde hair products replaced with those for a brunette, and a bunch of tomatoes and a basil plant instead of tomato and basil soup – presumably on the grounds that you could make your own.

Should’ve popped to the shops

The survey also found that Asda was most likely to make substitutions (51% of orders), with Tesco and Waitrose next (39% of orders). Iceland orders were the least likely to contain substitutions, while Waitrose customers were the most satisfied with the substitutions chosen for them.

We wrote about substituting on Which? Convo in 2010 when online supermarket shopping was still quite a fresh idea. Here’s a sample of some of the substitutions you told us about. Sue wrote:

‘I ordered a dark brown hairdye and Tesco substituted ash blonde – (since then I have made full use of the ‘do not substitute’ function).’

While Chris’ shopping contents even got the delivery driver laughing:

‘Christmas. Tesco sent a bag of loose Quorn mince as a substitute for… a Quorn Roast. It was so funny, even the van driver laughed.’

So have you had any peculiar substitutions recently? Do you still find online supermarket shopping convenient or have the substitutions put you off?


After some early mishaps [nothing too silly, just not what we wanted] we don’t allow any substitutions now when doing an on-line Sainsbury’s order. We still sometimes get items in the wrong size but unless it’s fresh food and too much it’s not really a problem. If there are any significant items missing because of our “no substitutes” order we can usually get it quickly when we next go out – it’s rarely critical. Although the driver always asks if everything is alright, it’s impractical to check every item in a big delivery which takes about half an hour to put away. We think it is still best to shop in person for fresh fruit and vegetables – you can work around the use-by dates and adapt menus as you shop. Plus you see things you might not have noticed on line so you can manage your own preferences.


You shouldn’t need to unpack the goods to find out if there are any substitutions. The delivery note lists them and, if you have a decent delivery driver, you will be asked if they are acceptable.


Sorry Tony – I should have made it clear that the Sainsbury’s delivery driver always tells us at the outset about any substitutions and unavailable items and also offers to take back any products that we don’t want. It occasionally happens that an error occurs in our ordering and we end up with the wrong size or too many of certain items: our fault entirely but Sainsbury’s will take them back – it’s just that we don’t discover the errors until we have emptied all the carrier bags and started putting things away! Not really a problem because we can usually manage to consume over-sized or additional food without wastage! The lesson is to really check the sizes [weights/volume/quantity] of the products when selecting them on-line – the pictures often give a misleading impression and are usually out-of-scale with adjacent items.


Finger trouble when setting up an order is always a problem! I have certainly made a hash once or twice with items that can be ordered either by weight or quantity and I forgot to specify which. So far, none of these mistakes have caused any problems.


Had dairy items substituted for specific non-dairy items a few times.

We are currently getting through 2 very large apple scented Fairy washing up liquids. They were substituted for regular Fairy that was on offer. It leaves a funny smell on everything …. very tempted to dump it. Had to go and buy a regular Fairy for quick turnaround items like mugs so not much of a special offer.

Supermarkets still substitute items for you even though you state “no substitutions”.


If there is a smell from washing-up liquid you cannot be rinsing your mugs etc adequately.

Niki says:
22 January 2015

My favourite was a Sainsbury’s substitution of AA batteries for AAA. What were they thinking?


You probably left the substitution option open in case there was a different brand available in the event that your first choice was out of stock. I sometimes wonder why they have my e-mail address and telephone number and it doesn’t occur to them to check. Faced with a battery lack I would have asked for a Battenberg cake in lieu.

Janet Haines says:
23 January 2015

My step-daughter ordered a jar of paprika, a jar of smoked paprika and a jar of chilli powder from ASDA. She was sent three jars of paprika. It will take a heck of a long time to get through that lot!