Budget food shopping in London: A guide to the city’s supermarkets

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Tesco Express
Tesco is a giant supermarket chain that has express branches in London. Photo: Kake

While we’d love to encourage you to do all your shopping at one of London’s markets, stocking up on food in a supermarket is going to ease your budget. Britain has several huge supermarket chains, and their dominance is a big issue with London locals: many people are concerned about how they have put independent retailers out of business. But the competition between the big chains makes for brilliant deals for customers.

Here’s the Eurocheapo guide to the main supermarket brands that are fighting it out for your pounds.

Tesco

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Tesco is the UK’s biggest chain of supermarkets—it’s estimated that £1 from every £10 spent in Britain is spent in a Tesco store. They carry a wide range of brands, but seek out the ‘Tesco Everyday Value’ range for the cheapest prices (the biscuits especially win praise from customers).  While some Tesco stores are huge, selling everything from tomato ketchup to TVs, in central London, you’re more likely to encounter a smaller Tesco Express store. Catering to workers, these stores are open late (usually until 11 PM) but carry a much smaller range of stock. Prices will also be slightly higher.

Related: Best outdoor food markets in London

Photo: quitepeculiar

The second biggest supermarket company in Britain, Sainsbury also has smaller, urban grocery stores in London. Photo: quitepeculiar

Sainsbury’s

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After Tesco, Sainsbury’s is the UK second biggest chain of supermarket. The two chains are very similar, although Sainsbury’s has a slightly better reputation for quality. The stores often include fish and cheese counters so you can pay for exactly what you want to buy, rather than having to buy off the shelves. Sainsbury’s Locals are smaller stores, an equivalent to the Tesco Express, while ‘Sainsbury’s Basics’ is its economy range. It’s also worth checking out the ‘by Sainsbury’s range’, usually cheaper than branded products.

Photo: Alan Stanton

The German chain Aldi has been opening more London branches in recent years. Photo: Alan Stanton

Aldi

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Just as the German chain Aldi is spreading across the US, it’s growing in popularity in the UK too, thanks to its wallet-friendly pricing. In fact, it was voted the country’s favorite supermarket earlier this year. You’ll tend to find Aldis outside of central London so—if you do spot one—we recommended stocking up on its excellent value own branded goods. Look out for Lidl too, another German brand proving to be a hit with British shoppers.

Asda

A UK partner of Walmart, Asda stocks mountains of food for cheap prices. Photo: Robyn Lee

Asda

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Asda is now the UK division of Walmart, and stocks a wide range of products at reliably low prices. As with Aldi, most of the larger stores are found away from the center of London. It’s worth tracking down an Asda if you’re looking to stock up your trolley with anything other than groceries: its George range is known for selling reasonably priced, fashionable clothing and homewares.

Mark & Spencer (M&S) is a popular department store also selling groceries & prepared foods. Photo: Adam Mulligan

Mark & Spencer (M&S like this one near Stratford Station) is a popular department store also selling groceries & prepared foods. Photo: Adam Mulligan

Marks & Spencer

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As you’d expect from a grocery store favored by David and Victoria Beckham, shoppers at Marks & Spencer (commonly known as “M&S” or “Marks and Sparks”) like to think of themselves as being a bit posh. Marks & Spencer is actually more of a department store, selling clothes as well as groceries, but—especially at railway stations—you find ‘Marks & Spencer Simply Food’ shops that (as the name suggests) specialize in food. M&S is a pricey option for a full supermarket shop, but look out for ‘Dine in For Two’ offers for a cheaper evening meal option. Their readymade sandwiches and salads are equal in taste, and sometimes beat on price, Eurocheapo favorite Pret a Manger.

Related: 5 cheap eats in London

The most upscale supermarket chain in London, Waitrose also offers free daily coffee for those who get their loyalty card. Photo: Paul M

The most upscale supermarket chain in London, Waitrose also offers free daily coffee for those who sign up for a loyalty card. Photo: Paul M

Waitrose

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Waitrose (and its smaller version, ‘Little Waitrose’) is the UK’s most upmarket supermarket chain, the kind of place that prides itself on its range of organic olive oils and artisan chutneys (there’s even a Facebook page devoted to some of its snobbier customers). Needless to say, I’d shop there all the time if I could afford it. If Waitrose is your only supermarket option, seek out their Essentials range for more affordable basics. Staying in the UK for a longer period? Apply for a Waitrose card—amongst many other deals, it entitles you to a free daily coffee from the store.

About the author

Frances Ambler

Frances Ambler has been doing her best to live in London on the cheap since 2003. She works as an editor in one of London’s best – and free – museums, as well as writing for various websites including domesticsluttery.com. An avid second-hand shopper, ten years of "research" culminated in her most recent project: writing for the soon-to-be-published "Rough Guide to Vintage London."

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