Friday 30 December 2011

Our Big Challenge 2012 - Saying NO to the Supermarkets

All these shots are of Pangbourne shops.

Our BIG Challenge for 2012 is saying "NO thank you" to the supermarkets and "Hello" to the High Street and small retailer.  We will not shop on a weekly basis anymore at the big supermarkets (or their little branches or cousins for that matter). We will NOT shop on a monthly basis at them either, we will shop at them only if there is absolutely no other means of obtaining what we need.

Earlier this month I asked my readers for their opinion on Marks and Spencer, was it a High Street shop or a supermarket, I was half hoping it would be a high street shop, and indeed as an ex -high street shop manager we were indoctrinated that they were 'one of us', but if you Google 'supermarkets' guess who now pops up half way down the list. So it is now included in our list of shops not to frequent for food.

Last week after signing the lease on our new home for the next three years, we took a drive to the High Street (and yes it is called that).  Luckily our nearest town is Pangbourne, in Berkshire, and guess what ...... it has virtually every shop we may need over the next year. 

A butcher, a baker (not quite a candlestick maker but a couple of gift shops that do sell them!), a greengrocers, a health food shop, a couple of banks, a Post Office,  two hairdressers, a large pub that serves meals, a chip shop, a pizza shop, a pet supplies shop, a couple of charity shops (woo hoo) and even dentists, doctors and a couple of coffee shops.  It does have a supermarket, a nice neat little Co-op, which is actually one of the good guys in the supermarket world, with lots of Fair Trade products and it acts ethically too, especially with it's money, but we won't be using this on a regular basis for this year at least.   All this and a village hall that has a Craft Market once a week and a Producers Market once a month. 

 Just how lucky can we get, this is a lost commodity in many villages and small towns and one that we will be supporting on every step of our journey. These are nearly all shops that I see us frequenting over the next few years. 

We have both been brought up in a completely supermarket obsessed age, so we are not being as short sighted as to completely ban ourselves from entering them if we really have to.  In case of a real need I have given us six Jokers to play over the course of the year, of course I hope we don't have to but sometimes there may be no choice and rather than fall at the first hurdle it would be more satisfying to have an ace up my sleeve (or in this case a Joker). 

Each time we have to visit a supermarket to shop (for whatever reason) we will play a Joker, we have given ourselves only six and really hope that we still have at least some of them left at the end of the year.


The reasons for doing this Challenge are many -

1. To take away our perceived dependence on the supermarkets.

2. To support local businesses, small producers and suppliers.  To try to help them stay in business, what will the country be like when the supermarkts have total control of all our food.  It's not as far in the future as you think, once they have control they will be able to dictate the prices we pay for everything.

3.  To stop us wasting money on things we don't really need ....  'Buy 2 Get 1 Free' is tempting, too tempting at times, but it lightens your purse and overfills your cupboards.  And since I found out that it is the supplier NOT the supermarket that pays for this 'offer' it has not looked nearly so appealing.

4.  To encourage us to think even wider about what we can grow to feed ourselves, and to make better use of all the things we do grow.

5. To satisfy my soul....... who can resist a greengrocers display of fresh organic seasonal produce, true they try to replicate it in the supermarkets with their row upon row of perfect, blemish free, same sized tasteless mass produced, picked too early fruits and veggies flown from all around the world.  Lovely to look at in the supermarket with the high stacks and bright lights but how disappointing when you get them home and eat them, hence the snacking later, our bodies need nutrients and flavour to be healthy, and these foods just don't supply them.

How much better to find we have a gap in our produce say of a cucumber, go to the greengrocers or Farmers Market find an local English grown freshly picked one and still enjoy the flavour I could have grown myself. And even better get home with just the makings of the meal I want and not have to find room for 24 toilet rolls that I didn't want or need but bought because they were 'just too good a bargain' to miss.


Yes we will be looking for bargains when we shop but NOT at the expense of the grower/producer/manufacturer.  We are looking to 'jump off the consumer bandwagon' with a satisfying thud, become more aware of what we need, what we want and how we get it.  It may take us all year to get used to this or it may come naturally..... I'll let you know.

We have cupboards and freezers once again full to capacity with bought foods, bargains I couldn't resist, treats I perceived us to deserve, so firstly this month we will be working our way through them, and emptying the worktops of foods that we couldn't even fit in the cupboards, rifling through the full to the brim freezers....where did it all come from .......the Supermarkets mostly.  Well thank you very much Mr Tesco, Master Asda, posh cousin Waitrose, nice Mr Sainsbury, glamorous Granny Marks and Spencer et al, but we will not be darkening your doors for a long time. 

We thank you for supplying us with these 'must have bargains', for lightening my load by emptying my purse and my bank account so regularly over the past years, but now we are doing something so very satisfying we are taking back control of our lives.  The most important part of our lives, the nourishment we put into our bodies. 

 January will be a virtually 'No Spend' month as we eat our way through our stocks of food, the only thing we should really need to buy is milk, that will be purchased from the little shop in the next village when I go to buy my Radio Times or post a letter.  I have bread in the freezer and flour in the cupboard to make our own when that runs out.

Last year we took lots of small steps forward in our drive to be self sufficient and self sustaining, this year we are striding forward more confident, with our purses and wallets firmly tucked deep in our pockets and our spades and trowels near to hand, but most of all with a firm resolve that we will take control of our lives.

Join us on our journey .... as before you are very welcome.   If you have tips to share or just moral support to offer, comment on our posts, let us know if you think we are doing it right or if you think we have gone to far.  Let us know if you are doing something similar yourselves.  The more of us that make a stand like this the better it will be for this countries high streets.  We are gradually losing more and more of our 'little shops', if you can make just one extra purchase from the high street shop instead of a supermarket you will be helping the shops we really shouldn't be losing.  It is so easy when you just stop and think for a minute.

Sue xx


  1. Of course we wish you the best of luck!

    What an exciting challenge, and I love the idea of the Jokers!

    Our challenge this year is to cook from scratch and use high street more, especially the butchers for Mr Sft's meat.

    I've been reading a book about thrift, mostly it was rubbish but a few gems included describing the cheaper parts of the animal and what they can be used for. Although I'm sure any butcher would tell us it's whether they've got the time or not.

    Mr Sft will be making lots of stews and casseroles.

    You and I should be called the challenge queens!

    Sft x

  2. My challenge for this year is to grow a bit more of what we eat. This last year we grew more than we had before (chicken and veg) but there is plenty of room for improvement.

    I have a query in my mind that needs to be settled. I tend to use the supermarkets because I am short of time and I can go there on my way home from work when the little shops are not open and when it costs very little extra fuel to get there. BUT the little shops are much much dearer for most things we want. Do the suppliers for the little shops earn substantially more for their produce than they earn from the supermarkets? I've read lots of articles but not come up with a definitive answer yet. I'm not talking about the B1G2F type offers or the £1 for 4 pints of milk where the producer does lose out but rather the normal everyday prices.

  3. Thats a big big challenge. I do like the idea of the Jokers

    Best of luck with it all.

  4. This is brillaint Sue, if only more people could do this. Me and James try to buy as much of our meat from local butchers and fruit and veg from the farm shop, the quality is so much better and it tastes a lot nicer, plus we are keeping local businesses in business which is great. I think what you are doing is amazing x x x x

  5. Good luck from me as well and I will look forward to seeing how you do and here's hoping you have a couple of Jokers left over at the end of the year....

    Gill in Canada

  6. Jo - A brilliant point and well raised.

    Most of the time suppliers/manufacturers do indeed get more money for supplying their goods to the smaller shops and small chains.

    Because of their 'clout' and sheer size and the added, 'at first' kudos of supplying to the big names, suppliers and manufacturers let the supermarkets have good deals, thinking they will benefit in the future, what they then go on to find out is that they will not be earning more in the future, rather the big guns beat them down on price more and more, cancel orders at the last minute (literally letting food rot in the fields after ordering it and then saying they have changed their minds). So they then have to face 'losing face' by stopping selling to the supermarkets or find they are tied into tight contracts to say they can only supply them and no other outlets for extended periods of time. Sometimes this can cause them to 'go bust'.

    This is slightly generalised but the way that most of them work. They have large pots of money available to fight any lawsuit a small supplier may bring and virtually always win one way or another.

    Small shops earn less and less for each product they sell as they try and compete with the supermarkets on price.

    We have worked out we should be slightly better off financially by only buying what we need from the smaller shops and markets rather than be tempted into too much of what we perceive as bargains too good to miss, so our budget for the year is actually smaller than last years.

    Sue xx

  7. to add insult to injury our local council has now decided to pedestrianise half our High Street, with tables and chairs for people to sit out "gather and socialise"- but the only way our small bunch of independant shops can compete with the town centre supermarkets is with people being able to park outside and pop in quickly for their purchases!

    So....we'll have more opticians, building societies and charity shops because they seem to be the only shops who can afford the rents.

    So many centres are dying on their feet, if only the council would help them a bit...perhaps a free parking day, or at the very least de-ice the pavements in the winter!

  8. How exciting I am looking forward to seeing how you get on. I would love to stay away from the big supermarkets - there is a fruit and veg market I could use twice a week near work and a farm shop a short drive away near a place I go to swim, so I can see some changes I can make too - we are no way on the same road as you, rathermore bystanders on the pavement! I have found though that small shops and even markets can be expensive if you don't buy what's in season. Good Luck and I do wish one day to be able to embark on a lifestyle adventure like yours. Betty

  9. Inspirational post. Our local shops ( next-door-but-one!) consist mainly of hairdressers (4 of them) but we do have a butchers and greengrocers too. I should make better use of them. I'll add it to my list of resolutions...

  10. Bravo! Its a similar challenge to the one we've set ourselves for next year. Roll on 2012!

  11. I'm doing 101 goals in 1001 days and made two related to supermarkets - one is to avoid them for a month and the other is to avoid them for three months. A friend just read my list and dropped me an email with a link to this post, it's lovely to see someone else experimenting this way. I live in a suburb of Leeds and will be exploring the city centre markets, my local greengrocers (so lucky to still have one) and our bakers (ditto!). Good luck with your year, I'm looking forward to seeing how you get on. :)

  12. Good luck with your challenge, a very good one too. Not too sure how things are going to be for me in 2012 (long story) but will be checking in and supporting you from this side of my computer.
    Wishing you all a very happy and exciting new year
    Sarah xx

  13. Good luck with your challenge. I like the Jokers idea. I only have the choice of two independently owned grocery stores and they are a mere 40 miles one way from me. I do not shop in the big stores when I am near them. I find them overwhelming.

  14. Hi sue..i have to say you and lh are very inspiring indeed...i showed the last 2 posts to my hubby and well you seem to have put a rocket in the man.We sat last night discussing what we really in our was a long night and we are shattered this morning,but we are both so full of new ideas and plans for the new year..he is making a start today bless him and our son has been roped in to help..
    As for saying NO to the big supermarkets..we will be doing that challenge with you..we have found a lovely greengrocers,good prices and very family orientated..full of wisdom he is..and lovely to boot.What we can't grow ourselves we will buy but only from him..the butchers was hard to find but i spent ages trawling the internet and found a localish one that will deliver for a few pounds extra..but they are local family buisness and the meat is reared on their farm so fingers crossed it will be nice and we will notice the difference..
    I am currently looking into using terry nappies for the latest addition whilst expensive to start with i would rather lay it out than buy a bag a week from a supermarket..
    This is going to be exciting and challenging and we are both looking forward to it...
    I wish you and lh so much luck in your new and exciting adventures..

  15. As you know we have been conducting a similair experiment, I have to admit to unceremoniously falling off the wagon in the week befor christmas due to time pressures. I like the idea of the jokers.....might try that out. Have you read Barbara Kingsolvers book about a year of eating only local foods?(Animal vegetable miracle)

    Happy new year and good luck!

  16. I shall be joining you in this challenge. We have many farm shops around and we grow a lot ourselves. It will be difficult to get out of the habit but ...not impossible.I look forward to it!
    Best of luck to you both in your new life.


  17. Hello, what a fascinating challenge. Many of your concerns aren't relevant to us here in France, strangely for the land of the Hypermarché. We don't have BOGOF deals and food is sold at logical prices without loss leaders or other standards of the British/American marketing strategy. Our local supermarket shows photos of local producers above the food they've sold to to the supermarket (although that's new). Admittedly, they are still selling cheaper, and sometimes worse quality, than the High Street shops and the market stalls. But on a budget, I rely on our French supermarket, I have to admit. I shall be very interested to see how you get on - very best of luck for this exciting project!

  18. Hello, How do I get in touch with you? There is no email or contact info listed .. please advise .. thanks .. Mary. Please contact me maryregency at gmail dot com

  19. i recognize that High Street,my daughter used to do her training in one of those hairdressers you mentioned.OH did a roof down the little road by the Co Op( which dont tell anyone Anton Rodgers lives down there.Stay away from the cafe,the food used to be amazing.
    And to top it all its a short stroll to the Thames.


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