Food for thought – Independent.ie

You may have noticed that the Christmas food shop offered less bang for your buck last month. That’s because Ireland’s record increase in inflation is affecting the value to be had in the average grocery basket.

According to Kantar, whose data analytics dissect Ireland’s grocery market share, the average price of Christmas dinner for four in 2021 reached €30.97 – 4.3pc higher than the year previous. Indeed, new figures published this week found that although the value of the grocery market declined by 5.2pc when compared against the record supermarket spend in 2020, sales have grown by 10.9pc compared with two years ago.

In the 12 weeks up to December 26, 2021, sales were worth €3.1bn.  

It’s interesting to note that almost two years into the Covid-19 pandemic, supermarkets are the big winners in retail, with much of our free time spent around the kitchen table.

In fact, just one year into the pandemic, the average Irish household spending on groceries had increased by €1,000 over a 12-month period. With continued issues in the global food supply chain and increasing prices across the grocery sector as a result of record inflation, a large chunk of our monthly income is eaten up with grocery bills.

But there is some good news. By incorporating some practical changes into the way you shop, you can shave hundreds off that annual food bill.

Banish the bad habits

Understanding why we shop the way we do is key when it comes to saving on your food shop. For starters, many of us hit the supermarket at least once a week for the ‘big shop’, with the intention of feeding the family for a week. However, these good intentions are often cancelled out by the amount of wasted food by the end of that week, as uneaten vegetables, rotting fruit and out-of-date items end up in the compost bin.

Research shows that those of us who actually take the time to work off a shopping list spend less on groceries. To get into the habit of doing this, first examine what exactly is in your kitchen cupboards, from canned foods to spices and seasoning.

These ingredients should form the foundation of meals and prevent any doubling up on products you already have.

Ticking off items from the list as you shop will keep your focus on your mission. In other words, you will be less likely to veer off course or pick up items you haven’t planned for.

Plan ahead

Some might think the very idea of meal planning is too arduous a task to grasp. Let’s not forget that pre-pandemic, we had grown very fond of convenience food, with many of us purchasing what we needed on the day rather than going through the rigmarole of pre-preparing dishes for the week.

But doing just this can shave at least €50 off a weekly grocery bill if you factor in family dishes for the week ahead.

It will also help you realise the bad habit of an over-reliance on impulse shopping while in the supermarket.

An item brandishing a massive discount at first glance appears to be a bargain to our deal-prone neural patterns. But if half-price items will still end up in the bin, what is the point of buying something you wouldn’t normally purchase purely because it seems like better value?

The freezer is your friend

If you warm to the idea of planning out meals and sticking to a shopping list, the next step is preparation. I say this with a pinch of salt as the non-cook in my household.

Where I fall down on my culinary skills, I make up for in savvy supermarket shopping. This means that on the day of shopping, my partner – the cook and meal-planner – will dictate exactly what is needed and then, on the same day, cook in bulk. This means a week’s worth of stew, soup and stir fry is cooked, portioned out per person, and frozen that same day.

There’s even a planner on the fridge to remind us what lunch or dinner to defrost for the following day.

Shelve the snobbery

Taste tests often come out in favour of chains’ own-brand food items. While there is a certain comfort in purchasing favourite brands, it can come at a price.

Tinned tomatoes, for example, are no different in terms of product, but a supermarket’s own brand versus a recognised brand can bring a saving of up to €1. The same goes for essentials such as a loaf of bread, a litre of milk and a box of teabags.

If you purchase branded bread, milk and teabag brands across Ireland’s leading supermarkets, the cost comes in at just over €6. These costs are based on fresh white sliced bread (800g), one litre of milk, and a box of 80 teabags.

If we look at what these three items would cost by buying a supermarket’s own brand, there is a saving of €3 to be made in each of these stores.

While switching up your favourite tea brand might not be in the running, if you try to apply this brand-snub across other items like tinned food, pastas and even cereals, you will make a tidy saving over a year.

How low can you go?

While we’re on the subject of cheaper food items, how items are displayed on your supermarket shelf is not an accident.

As consumers, more expensive items are often ruled out on the grounds of price, but we still like to feel like we are treating ourselves to the next best thing.

That’s exactly what many of us do, because the products at eye level on our shelves are the very products supermarkets are banking on you to buy.

A mid-priced item is often the most popular because we don’t want to think of something as being too cheap or too expensive. So, you’ll notice the products your gaze is set upon will likely be that mid-priced product.

My advice? Crouch down to that lowest shelf. Items are often significantly cheaper – and the same in terms of quality – as what you would purchase from the shelf above it.

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