Millions of wealthy shoppers have a difficult decision to make next week. When the Ocado deal with Waitrose comes to an end, should they order direct from Waitrose.com, or stick with the app and its new star turn, Marks and Spencer?
I have never shopped for groceries online and don’t intend to start now. Anyway, I have a far better proposition. It’s called Farmfoods.
No, this is not your local farm shop — far from it. There are more than 300 Farmfoods shops around the UK offering a veritable feast of deals on frozen food and other essentials from this privately owned company headquartered in Cumbernauld.
Never heard of them? You are in for a treat. Mentioning this revelation to my friends and neighbours, I’ll admit my advice was initially greeted with an array of Botox busting facial expressions (the sort you’d expect in response to receiving a box of Ferrero Rocher as a gift for holding a cocktail party at Claridge’s).
Some thought — wrongly — that Farmfoods was the sort of retail establishment frequented by people who cannot afford to go to Lidl or Iceland, or that you wouldn’t be allowed in unless you had a tattoo. Such unwarranted snobbery blinds them to the savings on offer.
Before you write to my editor (again) wondering why this column is here, bear with it. It took Tesco 20 years to get to a stage where 9 per cent of their sales took place online. A few months of global pandemic, and that figure has risen to 16 per cent. Tesco has created 16,000 new jobs, although this shift in our shopping habits bangs another nail in the coffin of the high street.
However, I am perplexed. Why would you go to an online retailer and agree to pay more for the same stuff that’s available down the road for considerably less? Whilst much of the nation has been working out how to secure an online delivery slot, I have donned my face covering and researched how to save money. And it all started with a magnum.
I love a magnum. Preferably Krug or Bollinger, though I’ll stoop to Ruinart or Moët. But this time, I’m not talking fizz. I’m talking ice cream.
My mother (aka The Wendy) said she quite fancied a Magnum. At the height of the pandemic, freezer shelves had been cleared in major supermarkets. Everyone knows that for all of Aldi’s great pleasures — particularly the wonder that is the “middle aisle” — ice cream is not its forte.
Aldi’s “Gianni” own brand is fine for a child under the age of 10 (they don’t care) but even in the face of a shortage, it’s no substitute for the real thing. So where else could I source mother’s Magnums? My research showed a huge variation in supermarket pricing, tantamount to daylight robbery.
A price check online confirmed that four Magnums typically cost £3.50. Sometimes reduced to £2.50 — eight for a fiver (better). But, how about this deal I stumbled upon a few weeks ago? Eight Magnums for £5, buy one box, get a box free. That’s 16 Magnums for £5. Of course, it was Farmfoods offering this deal. And if you register on its website, you can get another 10 per cent off. Get in.
Farmfoods was also selling 20 Nuii ice cream sticks for £6 (less 10 per cent). If you haven’t tried this posh ice cream brand, I highly recommend the salted caramel and Australian macadamia nut variety. And as I write, Farmfoods is doing two tubs of Ben and Jerry’s for £4.50 (including that 10 per cent discount). That’s a deal!
Meanwhile, in my local Co-op, it’s £3 for 430ml of Hellmann’s Mayonnaise. Down at Farmfoods, an 800g jar is £2. Tesco currently charges £46 for 96 cans of Diet Coke. At Farmfoods, it’s just £26. Tunnock’s teacakes are usually £1 a packet; how about two packets for £1.60? Don’t forget these prices are before the 10 per cent discount. And I can pay at the checkout with my Amex Centurion Card, which means points. Boom.
On my first visit to Farmfoods, I took the Bentley. This was a smart move because the boot is massive. I only turned up for a look around, yet ended up filling a massive trolley. I mean, with a 32-bag box of Golden Wonder crisps for £1.99, why wouldn’t you?
I’ve just received the weekly online newsletter, advertising a host of offers on household brands including Finish dishwasher tablets, Ariel washing capsules, Sun-Pat peanut butter and Mars ice cream — most of which are 30 to 50 per cent cheaper than your average online grocery store.
I am well aware that I have demonstrated Britain’s obesity problem in a long list of branded heaven. Biscuits, cakes, frozen stuff and bags of crisps. What I am advocating though is a new take on your high street shop. Go to different places for the right deals. Don’t stick to one source, and go online to research prices and coupons, not to order.
So I’ll be off to Aldi or Lidl for my fruit and veg (if I haven’t grown it myself) and there is still space for M&S — its four-nut granola and Percy Pigs are essential items. Locally, I’m a proud customer of our butcher, fishmonger and bakery (I love a Danish loaf) and appreciate having these on our doorstep. Use them, or lose them.
My theory is that the simplicity and convenience of online grocery shopping has resulted in shoppers overlooking blatant price inflation of branded goods. But perhaps nowadays, price is outgunned by convenience? This seems to be the message from Dame Sharon White, who wants to ditch John Lewis’s “never knowingly undersold” price pledge after 95 years.
Some say rich people stay rich because they live like they’re broke. So apply the eagle eye to prices on your online app, and stop being snooty about where you shop.
Next time I go to Farmfoods, I’ll take the electric car so I can save on the petrol too. My thrifty habits mean I will also have money left over for life’s true essentials such as comb honey, loose-leaf Royal Blend tea and cats’ tongues (the chocolate variety) from Fortnum & Mason. And if I do purchase any kind of consumable online? It will be fizz. Mine’s a magnum.
James Max is a property expert and radio presenter. The views expressed are personal. Twitter: @thejamesmax
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