Tuesday, August 07, 2012

Oxford Guide: Grocery Shopping

Grocery shopping in a new country can be a daunting and time consuming experience, but it can also be lots of fun! There are lots of weird and wonderful new products to discover, a seemingly endless list of '3 for 2' and '2 for 1' deals and a few fancy new names as well. For example, did you know that if Cinderella had have been written in the UK, she would have ridden home in a 'squash'? A few other veggies separated by a common language include; 'mangetout,' 'aubergine' and 'courgette,' otherwise known as snow peas, eggplant and zucchinni, but none are quite as important as learning the difference between 'trousers' and 'pants!

As I've mentioned previously, I do most of our grocery shopping online, but I love the markets and use the local supermarket for everything in between. I don't have a favourite, I usually just use whichever is most convenient, but there are some major differences to be aware of. 

Here's a brief introduction to what Oxford has to offer:

Charles and Camilla check out at Belgravia's Waitrose. Photos by: The London Evening Standard

Waitrose $$$
As the only supermarket chain to hold a Royal Warrant, Waitrose supplies some seriously 'posh nosh.' Understandably, it also has a reputation for being one of the most expensive super- markets in the UK, (along with M&S), but I think it offers far better value for money than it is given credit for. That said, if you choose to do your weekly shop here, it will cost considerably more than at any of the other 'big 4' supermarkets (Asda, Morrison's, Sainsbury's or Tesco), 
but the quality and service you'll recieve are second to none...except maybe M&S.  
Location: Old High St, Headington.

Kate at the Menai Bridge Waitrose store in Anglesey, North Wales. Photos by: Lee Thompson & Chris Neill.

M&S Simply Food $$$
Marks & Spencer, (also affectionately know as 'Marks & Sparks), specialises in luxury food items and has the best selection of fresh, organic produce by far. All products are own-brand and come beautifully presented. Home-brand just sounds wrong in this case and the only real down side (apart from the price) is that most of M&S's produce comes with LOADS of packaging.

M&S also have a large selection of delicious ready-made meals. Please let me clarify by saying these are not words I ever dreamt I'd use in the same sentence, but they really are delicious! Keep an eye out for their 'Dine in for £10,' deals where you get everything you need for a two course meal plus wine for two. Locations: Banbury Rd, Summertown, Queen St, City Centre, (the food section is on the ground floor towards the back of the store) and at the Oxford Retail Park at the end of Cowley Rd.

Tesco / Tesco Express / Tesco Metro $$
I had no idea Tesco featured in Lily Allen's LDN (London Music Video) until my little brother came to visit last month. Every time we went past a store he'd start singing, "There was a little old lady, who was walking down the road, she was struggling with her bags from Tesco!" It was kinda cute. You can watch the clip below. (You may need to 'un-mute' the sound).

Known as the 'big bad giant', Tesco has put many of its smaller competitors out of business, but its customers enjoy excellent value for money and the convenience of extended trading hours. Some stores are even open 24 hours a day!

Sainsbury's $$
Although they own far fewer stores Sainsbury's is often compared to Tesco, but overall, I think that they provide far better customer service and a more pleasant shopping experience. They also offer a huge range of products to suit most budgets, from the Sainsbury's 'Basic' range, to 'Taste the Difference,' Sainsbury's answer to the up-market, restaurant quality foods provided by rivals like Waitrose and Marks & Spencer. Other ranges include; 'Organic', 'Freefrom' - for those who have wheat, gluten and dairy intolerances, a 'Kids' range and a 'Be Good to Yourself' range.

The co-operative $$
The co-op pride themselves in ethical trading and sourcing and ALL of their stores are powered by green energy. (A first for any UK retailer). Amongst their produce you'll find fairly traded bananas, wine, tea, coffee and chocolate. And if these weren't reason enough to visit, the co-op's 'Truly Irrisistable Chocolate Ice Cream' really is!

Aldi $
Short for "Albrecht Discount," Aldi is SUPER cheap and stocks mostly own-brand products. The check-out system is a bit bizarre, but it's fast and furious and the quality and service are great. Location: Botley Rd, Oxford. 

Expat shopping tips
·     In most cases, you'll be expected to pack your groceries yourself
·     Fruit and vegetables are weighed by the cashier at the cash register
·     Plastic bags are provided, but usually at a cost.
·     Always insist on receiving a receipt and check it before leaving the store.
·     If paying by credit or debit card, take extra care to ensure 'cash back' has not been added 
      to your bill. (Unless of course you requested it).
·     Many stores offer loyalty/ discount cards. If you plan to shop at the same store regularly, 
      it's definitely worth filling out the paperwork.
·     If you're longing for items from home, check out my post on expat survival food supplies.
·     Unfortunately, few grocery stores in Oxford supply parking. If a car is a must, check out my 
      post on Oxford's Superstores.

Delis, specialty stores and farmer's markets coming soon!

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