/ Shopping

Have we fallen out of love with the big weekly shop?

Fruit on shop shelf with no prices

The big weekly shop. For many of us Saturday mornings used to mean a family trip to an out-of-town superstore where we squabbled over what to eat that week – before carting home an improbable amount of food.

But it seems we may have fallen out of love with the weekly wrestle with an overflowing shopping trolley and its always dodgy back wheel.

New research from the Co-op claims that the once-a-week visit is in decline. It says that half of us no longer tend to shop that way. It’s even higher (six in 10) for 25 to 34-year-olds.

The research claims that among the major reasons for this are efforts to reduce food waste and people claiming the weekly shop no longer fits in with their busy lives. Instead we’re more often using convenience stores and shopping online.

Giving up on the big shop

I became a fan of the big weekly shop when I got my first car. No more buying just what you could carry. No more carting home splitting plastic bags on the bus.

I quickly became expert at knowing the times when my nearest superstore was at its quietest and the most efficient way around the aisles to get the things I wanted.

Sadly, I was more a hopeful than a realistic shopper. There was space in the car, so I filled it. Not with the things I needed, but the things I aspired to. A brief foray into pastry making was never likely to last.

Eventually I gave up on the big shop and the car. I’m lucky in that I live near a high street that has two smaller ‘convenience’ stores.

Are we going back to the past?

It seems that one in three of us now adopt a ‘grazing’ mentality – shopping for food multiple times a week. It seems we’re going back to the past in this way – back in 1965 one in three women used to shop every day for groceries.

I certainly remember my mother doing this – although I suspect there was a large social aspect to her shopping habits.

Apparently, we use convenience stores for different things depending on the day of the week. If it’s a Monday, we’re most likely to be topping up on staple item. Nearer the weekend it’s more likely to be alcohol or something for that evening’s meal.

For a long time it seemed that all that supermarkets had to do was build bigger and bigger stores out of town, then we would find a way to travel to them for the sake of ever greater choice. But are the supermarkets now coming to us instead?

How do you do your weekly food shopping? Do you still favour a big weekly shop or do you prefer to top up a number of times during the week? How do you think the supermarket chains should change to suit your needs?

How do you do your weekly food shopping?

I prefer to shop multiple times a week (53%, 572 Votes)

I prefer to do a big weekly shop (47%, 516 Votes)

Total Voters: 1,088

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I suppose the answer depends very much on where you live and what alternatives you have, I doubt anybody has the choice I have.

Within 10 minutes by car I have two Aldis, a third arrives soon, one Morrison, two Waitrose, two Sainsburys, and an 18 hour a day Tesco., and another Tesco. There are also two small Co-ops, and a M&S shop at the local petrol station. The closest on foot is ten minutes.

We use Aldi, Waitrose, and the Co-op in decreasing importance and shop at the first two weekly. The Co-op hardly ever. And the farm shop once a week – but that is just over 10 minutes away.

We have the opposite scenario to dieseltaylor in this Herefordshire town (well, if I lived in the Scottish Highlands there would probably be even less choice) – namely a small Tesco and a Co-op. Both these chains are consistently at the bottom of Which’s pile, but a lot is down to individual store management – our Co-op isn’t as bad as many others I’ve been to.

However, with the nearest Lidl 10 miles away, they have no competition. I frequently go to the West Midlands where my lady friend lives – there’s a Lidl or Aldi on almost every street corner, so that is where I do my bulk shopping. I very seldom make a special journey to do a supermarket shop, but if I’m in the area, I take advantage.

Food shopping is not something I enjoy. Therefore I do it as seldom as possible – once per week at a large Sainsbury’s. I’m usually in and out in under 15 minutes. For different reasons, booze shopping is even less often, roughly every 9 months – 2 hours from home at Carrefour in Calais and Lidl in Belgium. Going to a supermarket more than once per week would be a waste of my time.

So many things have changed in people’s work and leisure patterns that it’s not a question of whether we have fallen out of love with a big weekly shop, it’s a case of fitting in the shopping when and where we can. With so many more people commuting to work and not controlled by a regular shift pattern life has become looser; eating out at lunchtime [or going out to get a snack and a beverage] rather than opening a lunch box means the evening meal diminishes in regularity and importance. It’s so easy to get a takeaway; virtually every pub sells food; most people have a well-stocked [but not necessarily well-used] freezer and enough in their cupboards to live on for some time before replenishment is necessary.

Probably over half a shopping trolley load in a major supermarket is not food but household products, toiletries, drinks [including immense volumes of water!], and all the other non-food products that are available now from ironing boards to school uniforms. Perhaps the Co-op is noticing a decline in the big weekly shop because its stores are generally smaller and do not carry the vast range of goods of the Big Four supermarkets. Our nearest shop of any type is a Tesco superstore [15 min walk] that we mainly use for top-up shopping [because it has the only posting box for miles!] but it has a very comprehensive selection of foodstuffs and household products that only one other shop in the town can match [Sainsbury, two miles away]. There are several smaller stores like Aldi, Lidl, Iceland, and Farm Foods but you cannot do a big shop in them because they do not have all the ancillary products like herbs and spices, cleaning products, toiletries, and the preferred brands.

The local/convenience stores like Tesco Express, and the M&S at the filling station, do not carry a wide range of foods [Tesco’s have quite small freezers with a very limited selection]. Space is generally given over to drink, snacks, and instant foods; we would find it very unsatisfactory if our choice were to be restricted to just this kind of store. Small Tesco’s in particular usually only stock one product in each category, generally a national brand because the mark-up is higher than with own-label products, and obviously they cannot provide deli, fish, meat and bakery counters so all ‘fresh’ food is pre-packed.

Our habit is to use the Sainsbury superstore for a home delivery about every two or three weeks mainly for the ‘stock’ commodities and provisions plus fresh food for the week ahead. That is our ‘big shop’. In between we pick up what we need wherever it is convenient and fits in with our movements which might include the weekly market, a farm shop, the BP/M&S, and Aldi, as well as other shops for toiletries and household products. If we go to Norwich we would usually call in at one of the Waitrose stores on the way home in order to “refresh” the larder and add a few higher quality items.

I have spent years criticising the way the major supermarkets have proliferated, leading to the closure of so many smaller independent shops from bakers to hardware stores, CTN’s to shoe shops. Now they are under threat themselves as the likes of Aldi and Lidl grow their market share. The problem is that if they withdraw or reduce their inventory [and there is already evidence of this] there are no independent shops left to fill the gap. The large Tesco on or doorstep, for all our grumblings, sells an incredible range of speciality products and unusual varieties that you might need only once or twice a year but which the competition will not be able to offer. There is almost one whole gondola dedicated to food wrapping and presentation products, from parchment to serving trays, drinking straws to ice-cream cones – rarely available in the smaller stores. The Sainsbury store likewise.

If the smaller shops increase their market share beyond a certain level neither of our large Sainsbury or Tesco stores will be able to maintain their current offering across so many categories and, little by little, products will be withdrawn. I don’t think they will have to fight it out to the death so that only one superstore remains – major new housing developments are planned that will increase footfall and Morrison have already withdrawn from a new-build store development on the back of the new housing and no one else has taken their place.

Thankfully, the big weekly shop is still important in our area – which still has the traditional family lifestyle – and Friday night and Saturday morning are the favoured times when all the checkouts are open, the self-service section is full and queuing, and there are no trolleys in the car park..

When I used to live next to a massive Asda, I used to do a weekly shop. It was just easy to carry home a bunch of shopping bags.

I live a little bit further away from a supermarket now. It’s a Tesco. Now I generally shop every couple of days, stopping off at a Sainsbury’s and M&S on my way home. I think it’s just a better way of shopping for your meals. Even though I expect it’s more expensive in the long run.

We do a weekly shop but I’m sure it is wasteful – buying stuff that you fancy at the time, or think you’ll need, or in case the family visits, but doesn’t get used. So shopping regularly when you need food, and buying what appeals to your taste buds on the day seems a much more sensible way of perhaps both saving money and eating enjoyably. If only it didn’t require more effort….. An en route stop off is a good solution. Perhaps. like schools, it should be a priority when choosing a new home?

We, and perhaps a lot more people nowadays, will not make a special car journey for food and household shopping. If it’s en route for some other purpose that’s OK. I agree with Malcolm’s point about buying what appeals to you on the day but that’s where we face a dilemma: if we stop at a small shop there is not the choice, but if we stop at a major supermarket with heaps of choice the chances are we come out with things we didn’t really need to get right then and sometimes stuff we probably didn’t need to get at all [and I am usually the impulsive culprit]. Picking up a basket at the entrance rather than a trolley is one way of controlling overload. Another way in which my urges get constrained is having things taken out of the shopping bags at the exit and put in the Food Bank bin. It’s a moral as well as an economic lesson.

When I chose my present home, there was a local butcher, greengrocer, baker and small supermarket nearby. None survived long after Tesco opened a supermarket nearby. The only one I miss is the butcher. I call in at Tesco once or twice a week and take the opportunity to shop elsewhere if passing.

For a while I did a weekly shop and and spent much more money than I do now with my daily shop. Like malcolm r suggests I bought stuff I fancied at the time or thought I would need and ended up by not using for yonks, if ever. I’m lucky my local Tesco is a good shop where I can find nearly everything I need and it’s 5 minutes from where I stay, so I can go there on my way back to work. I have to go somewhere else for good bread though, I don’t know what’s up with supermarket bread in this country, but mostly it ain’t good.

I remember the supermarket outings while on holiday with my grand-parents when my sister and I were wee in the 70s. They were a treat. Shopping malls and supermarkets were few and far between, still a novelty to us country bumpkins, and we would sometimes be treated to lunch at the cafeteria. On our way back home we would also stop at the only place in the area, probably 50 miles radius, where you could recycle paper and cardboard. We had the time and the inclination. Bliss.

Sophie, I agree with you about bread. Most of it is pretty disgusting which is probably why I don’t eat much of it and tend to eat wholemeal pitta instead.

The Coop used to do quite a nice wholemeal loaf but even that has disappeared.

When travelling around Europe, we have had some really nice breads which are the norm in some places. Any better bread in this country gets called Artisan and has a high price tag to go with it.

The best bread I have had in a long time was from the Eden Project and that was a couple of years ago.

My nearest supermarkets are between 7 and 8 miles in either direction so I only do a big shop every 2 weeks and usually make a list which I try to stick to. We have a small post office and convenience store in the village where I live which is no more than a five minute walk away which I use if I run out of anything, usually milk or bread. I may pay a little more there but choices are reduced so I reckon I spend less by buying less.

Some supermarkets have become way too big for me now and can be very tiring and time consuming walking around trying to find things and so I usually end up at Waitrose where if I stick to my list I end up spending fairly close to my budget and enjoy my ‘free’ coffee at the same time. You are now required to buy a snack with your coffee but yesterday I enjoyed a coffee and lovely almond croissant for the modest price of £1.50p.

We do a big shop about every 6 weeks usually by home delivery from Ocado unless another supermarket is offering a discount because they haven’t seen us for a while.

We go to the local butcher once a week, and fruit, veg and items we have run out of get bought from the local Coop or Sainsburys when required.

We rarely go to the supersize supermarkets because we can never find what we want, walk around in circles trying to find them, get fed up and leave without half the things we intended to buy.

Apart from the social side of everyday shopping in the fifties, fridges and freezers were far from commonplace in the household. Buying fresh meat and veg, and milk etc, to use on the day was the norm. Everything was fresh. There were no freezer shops, or supermarkets. You queued up at the counter of the nearest grocery shop, usually not very large, with your list. When it was your turn you read each item in turn, and they weighed it if necessary. Then you paid them, and then went to the butcher, the greengrocer, the baker or wherever you needed. There were no plastic carrier bags and people had their own shopping bag, plus a string bag for overflow items. You could get brown paper carriers with string handles sometimes. Everything you ate was fresh, and not processed or frozen. It was very social and good exercise too.

I remember those days well Larna. Not only did most households not have refrigerators, but most shops had very poor storage facilities for fresh foodstuffs. Butchers usually had a refrigerated cold store but greengrocers often had nothing more than an unheated windowless room or cellar, and fishmongers took weekly deliveries of ice to pack round the trays of fish. Dairies might have had a small cold room, but tried to keep the place cool with marble shelves and tiled walls and floors. Shops had elaborate sets of blinds, canopies, shades and awnings to keep the heat out in the summer. They relied on daily deliveries from the markets in insulated, but not chilled, vans. Produce going to the markets was usually transported in insulated lorries and railway wagons and might have been in transit for two days before reaching the wholesale market. Therefore, in order to buy fresh food that would still have a day or two’s life left in it, it was vital to go to the shops every day and many shops would have sold out of fresh food by lunchtime. Overall, choice was extremely limited unless you struck up a good relationship with your butcher, grocer and greengrocer and they ‘looked after you’ – if you fell out with them the consequences could be dire.

I’m no enthusiast of supermarkets and the way they treat their customers but they have done a lot to raise the standards of food storage, and ‘use by’ dates have decreased the risk of buying unsafe food.

Larna8 suggests that we all ate fresh food in the past, rather than processed or frozen food. If frozen food has replaced tinned food then perhaps we have moved forward.

The problem with “use buy” dates is the waste of food they cause, when something quite eatable is thrown away because it is “just past”. It is quite understandable that manufacturers and retailers protect themselves this way and we should plan our eating dates accordingly. However once upon a time we used our own judgement whether something was fit to eat or not. Have we lost that ability?

I don’t think we ever had the ability to judge whether food is fit to eat or not. I stick to ‘use by’ dates and do not waste much food. It helps that food can often be frozen if there is a possibility it will not be used in time.

Food poisoning is at best unpleasant, but can be much more serious. A friend has been in hospital for more than two months as a result of food poisoning.

It is safe to eat food after the ‘sell by’ or ‘best before’ date, though the quality may have deteriorated.

When I was little we never had use by dates, and we had no fridge. Mum managed to deal with food nevertheless and I never recall a case of food poisoning.

I don’t know the reason but perhaps we don’t respect the risk of food poisoning enough. I still remember how careful my mother was about making sure that leftover food was not stored long in the fridge. Eating out is far more common and greater variety of dishes means more opportunity for something to go wrong – some sauce or dressing that has been stored too long or salad garnish contaminated with meat juices.

Perhaps the biggest problem is the attitude that ‘it won’t happen to me’. We know that campylobacter is the most common cause of food poisoning and that poultry is the main source, yet few seem concerned about the dangers. Most people believe that cooking food thoroughly will make it safe to eat but some toxins are heat-stable and will survive this treatment.

Sometimes shoppers leave chilled food in the most amazing places. I found one pack on a display with shoe polish. Staff are trained to dispose of products that have not been stored properly but ‘helpful’ shoppers may return the food to the chiller cabinet. Packages with a tell-talle to show if packs have not been stored correctly have been developed, but the system has not been adopted. Responsible shoppers can help by taking the incorrectly stored packs to customer service and telling them to dispose of them, explaining the danger.

The other week after going to the butcher, we accidently left the meat in the car for several hours on a hot day.

Although it still smelled ok, it was not worth the risk of food poisoning for the sake of around £10. So the foxes had a good meal that night and we even thoroughly cooked it for them first !!!

I think our parents were better at budgeting and planning ahead, only buying what they really needed so there was less waste and less chance of food poisoning. My mum didn’t waste anything except a few crumbs for the birds and I don’t ever remember getting food poisoning as a child.

The only times I think I have had food poisoning is after eating out and I am especially wary of cold buffets where food has been prepared well in advance of the event.

I would adopt the same approach, Alfa. Cold buffets concern me too. They may have been laid out in a warm room hours ago and covered with cling film to keep them ‘fresh’. Even if they were prepared under hygienic conditions, the bugs could be growing well.

I do not understand why it is not mandatory for fridges to have an external temperature gauge (as common on supermarket cabinets) so that householders are alerted to storage temperatures that are too high. ‘Use by’ dates assume that our fridges are cold. Perhaps we should go back to shopping daily or every couple of days. Frozen food is seen as inferior to chilled food, but it’s much safer.

I suspect that barbecues are a significant cause of food poisoning. I do my best to avoid them because I became aware of the dangers in the early 70s. I have seen barbecued food that is burnt on the outside yet uncooked on the inside.

I’ve had a brief but embarrassing episode of norovirus when staying with a family with young children. Kids don’t understand that it is rather infectious. 🙁

June Adamson says:
25 July 2015

I do my big shop every 8 days rather than weekly, on the internet. Being retired I have this luxury as I can get the delivery when it suits me anytime of day. The extra cost over a weekly shop for our household is 2 apples and 1 orange (my husband likes them, I don’t). I make the rest stretch to 8 days, batch cooking and planning meals ahead. I also make all my own bread, freezing it in portions to avoid waste. We have a milkman and we do use a local butcher for meat because the quality is superb!

We no longer have a car, so a once a week shop is usual now. We have a small local Spar shop, but even a loaf of bread cost us £1. dearer than the larger supermarket we use.
We take two buses to the supermarket, then have a taxi home.

Keith C says:
26 July 2015

We do one big weekly shop. Get it over in one go seems less time consuming than going 3 or 4 times a week. Also it works out cheaper to do one big shop than 3 or 4 smaller ones. Let’s be honest every time most shoppers go into a supermarket they buy things that weren’t on their lists so the more times they go the more extra things they buy so the more money they spend. Great for the super markets so is it they who are actually behind the idea that multiple smaller shops are better?
Probably the reason that the Co-op is noticing a drop off in shopping is that they are so much more expensive than the other supermarkets.

Since moving into town and within a short walk form a supermarket we have cahnged our shopping habit to almost everyday.
Even before retirement a short walk to buy what we fancied for dinner and top up other supplies was a good way to unwind and definitely reduced wastage.
Since retirement and living in a small town frequent shopping is a good way of keeping active and socialising !
Obviously not possible for many people.

David says:
27 July 2015

Actually I do one big shop either once a fortnight or in some cases even once a month. The rest of the time I just do very small top up shops for milk and bread, with the occasional shop for a few fresh salad items when I need them.

I would guess that a lot of the daily shoppers in the olden days mentioned above, before fridges etc, the ones we remember with that tear in the eye, were stay-at-home mums (probably more rarely dads). They generally knew what there was in the house, remembered when they had bought it, and had a plan in their heads when they were going to use it. A skilled house-wife/husband is priceless.

Times have changed. With both parents working in later days, supermarkets must have looked like a godsend, like home deliveries, and I bet they still are a godsend to very busy people, parent or not. But it is a good thing as well that some of us, who have the time, appreciate the daily shopping experience and have gone back to it or never left it.