Cost of living: recommended consumption sites for households | UK cost of living crisis

Struggling British households are turning to online discount stores to buy nearly expired food as the cost of living crisis puts pressure on budgets.

Some of these stores, which sell name-brand food and drink products that are approaching or past their best-before date at discounted prices, are experiencing a surge in customer numbers.

Rising inflation is driving up food prices: It was reported on Tuesday that annual supermarket bills would typically rise by £533, or more than £10 a week, as food price inflation hit its highest level since at least 2008.

It is therefore not surprising that more households are looking for ways to reduce their weekly food expenditure.

More and more retailers are selling branded foods close to their best before dates at discounted prices, including Approved Food, Motatos, Company Shop and Low Price Foods.

However, a quick price test by Guardian Money this week indicated that while there are bargains to be had, you will sometimes get cheaper prices on certain items in major supermarkets, so you should look at prices closely. and go around.

Best before dates give indications of when a product will have passed its maximum quality and are different from best before dates, which indicate that it might be unfit for consumption.

“The expiry date… is about quality, not safety. Food is safe to eat after this date, but may not be at its best. Its flavor and texture might not be as good,” the Food Standards Agency guidelines state.

Approved Food says it had more than 1,000 new customers in the first week of August this year, a tenfold increase from the same week in 2021.

Andy Needham, managing director of Surplus Group, owner of the Approved Food website, said: “The cost of living crisis is definitely starting to hit us, although we are still in the early stages. Visits to our website and new customers are all showing an increase in a historically more static time, with school closures and the holiday season in full swing.

However, he adds, “The average basket size is slightly lower, indicating that customers have less to spend right now. We expect this trend to continue as energy bills take up an increasingly large portion of people’s available money to spend. »

At the time of writing, examples of products and savings at Approved Food included a 1kg packet of Napolina spaghetti with a best before date of 31 July 2022 for £1.49, down from a retail price Registered (RRP) £1.95.

A 500g packet of the same spaghetti cost £1 at Asda, while a 1kg packet cost £1.75. At Sainsbury’s, the 500g and 1kg packs cost £1.30 and £1.75 respectively.

A 420g jar of Sharwood’s tikka masala cooking sauce with a best before date of February 28, 2023 cost £1.19, against an RRP of £1.70.

What appeared to be the same item was priced at £1.80 at Asda and £2 at Tesco.

At Low Price Foods, shoppers could buy three boxes of Cadbury’s Peanut Protein Brunch Bars (with a best before November 2, 2022) for £3.50 instead of the listed £6, and two packs of Golden Rice Vegetables Ben’s Original microwave (with best before 1st September 2022) for £1.75, down from £2.98.

It was £1.50 for a box of brunch bars at Morrisons, meaning three packs would cost £4.50, but only £1 at Sainsbury’s, or £3 for three.

Basically, since discount stores typically sell branded foods, shoppers will often be able to get cheaper own-brand options by visiting a traditional supermarket, where you can also sometimes pick up “yellow sticker” bargains.

Don’t forget to factor in delivery costs. Photo: 9giftsKevalee/Getty Images

When we looked, the 500g Asda branded versions of spaghetti and tikka masala cooking sauce were 23p and 90p respectively, while the Tesco branded versions were 23p and 95p respectively.

Consumers should also consider delivery costs. For example, a shopping basket worth £29 at Approved Food will typically cost £3 to deliver to a London postcode (it offers free delivery when you spend over £55), while delivery costs at Low Price Foods start at £4.95. . Also keep in mind how long it will take for things to happen. For example, when we looked, the Low Price Foods site listed three to five business days but also four to seven business days.

As stock is limited, there may also be restrictions on the quantity of each item buyers are allowed to purchase.

Oli Townsend, a business expert at MoneySavingExpert, says buying food at a discount because it’s nearing or past its best before date “can be a useful way to help combat the rising cost of groceries”.

He adds, “Grocery clearance sites such as Approved Food and Motatos are best used to pack the deep-priced kitchen cupboard essentials you buy on a regular basis. The downside to these is that there’s often a high minimum spend and shipping isn’t usually cheap, so it’s only worth it if you’re willing to buy in bulk.

Townsend says that while best before dates are a health warning and should not be exceeded, “best before dates are only manufacturer’s advice on optimum quality, and therefore foods that have passed their best are still safe to eat. to eat”.

Concerns have also been raised in some quarters about the health implications of consuming discounted foods, which are often packaged and processed.

Fruit and veg at Waitrose
Waitrose, Tesco and Marks & Spencer have removed expiry dates from some products to reduce food waste. Photograph: Aaron Chown/PA

Ben Reynolds, deputy chief executive of food charity Sustain, said: ‘With more and more people on the bread line, it’s understandable to see an increase in shops specializing in cheap goods. But people want to have a healthy, balanced diet rather than little choice but highly processed unhealthy foods and drinks.

Supermarkets, including Waitrose, Tesco and Marks & Spencer, have removed expiry dates on certain products to reduce food waste in stores and prevent households from throwing away safe food.

Laura Rettie, editor of Finance.co.uk, says it’s ‘ultimately a positive move’ for buyers.

The difference between a best before date and a best before date can easily be confused, and decent food often goes to waste, costing consumers money to replace perfectly good food, she says.

“I understand shoppers who may be concerned that this decision means they could end up with food that won’t keep as long without the help of an expiration date. I urge supermarkets not to take advantage of shoppers by selling fresh products near or beyond their expiry dates to prove that this decision is positive.

Apps such as Too Good To Go and Olio have grown in popularity in recent years, allowing users to pick up leftover food from local shops and cafes at a reduced price.

There are also organizations such as FareShare that distribute unwanted food from stores to charities and food banks.

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